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A pleasant, if familiar, ‘Coppelia’

The Arizona Republic, by Richard Nilsen

Ballet Arizona’s Coppélia is the same production as the one the troupe performed in 2005, but with two major differences.

The first is that it’s at Symphony Hall instead of the Orpheum. What Symphony Hall lacks in ambience — even refurbished it has the architectural charm of a blimp hangar — it makes up for with a larger stage. This year’s Coppélia makes use of that extra space.

Second, the music is live, performed by the Phoenix Symphony under the baton of Timothy Russell. Having real music in real time makes a huge difference.

The cast is largely the same as last time, however, with Natalia Magnicaballi and Paola Hartley taking turns as the heroine, Swanilda; Astrit Zejnati and Vitaly Breusenko alternating as the lunkheaded hero, Franz; and Nikolai Moroz in the primarily mime role of Dr. Coppelius, the dotty mad-scientist doll maker.

When you perform an old chestnut in an old production with the same cast, there’s a tendency for it all to feel just a little old hat. And this production doesn’t escape that pitfall. The problem is exacerbated by Ballet Arizona’s highly conservative season. We have already had a Swan Lake and a Nutcracker. Piling a Coppélia on top of that makes us yearn for the Balanchine Festival of last season.

Yet, there are splendid moments where everything picks up and attains transcendence.

Coppélia is unusual in that it’s a comic ballet. Our hero is fickle, our heroine headstrong. They mime a good deal of the first two acts, making this more story than dance. The story is tied up by the end of the second act, making the third act primarily a showcase for the corps de ballet and the two stars. It’s a bit of a wait for that, but it must be noted that the kids in the audience ate up the first two acts. This is an excellent ballet to bring a beginner to: It’s easy to follow and nothing in it is very challenging for the audience.

Perhaps it’s only because we have come to expect such a high standard from Ballet Arizona that there is a bit of a letdown in seeing this warhorse so soon again. Next up comes an anthology program including a dance by Twyla Tharp. That should shake us out of our doldrums.