When the Houston Ballet presents Coppélia this week, it will be the first time in more than a decade that the company has mounted the show. With music by Leo Delibes (who Houston Ballet audiences will recall also composed Sylvia) and with a production created by former Houston Ballet artistic director Ben Stevenson, Coppélia is a family-friendly fantasy.
“The difficulty of the dancing in it is impressive,” says Ian Casady, principal dancer with the company who is making his role debut as Dr. Coppelius. "Audiences may not realize that as they’re watching it.”
Coppélia is the story of the young lovers Franz and Swanhilda, who meet the mysterious Dr. Coppelius and his even more mysterious creation, a doll named Coppelia. Franz is entranced by the doll and chaos ensues when Swanhilda decides to impersonate her. Fans of The Nutcracker might see similarities between that ballet’s Uncle Drosselmeyer and the doll maker, hardly surprising since both are taken from stories by E.T.A. Hoffman.
“It’s exciting [to dance Dr. Coppelius],” says Casady, who’s performed in the ballet before. “This is a much more character-driven role. So, I am working on the acting part of it, a lot of mime, a lot of drawing from Phillip Broomhead and Tim O’Keefe, who danced the role when I was in the ballet before. It’s really fun.”
Casady also got a lift in learning his part when Stevenson came by to coach rehearsals once day, and experience he said helped push him more into the character.
“One of the things I love about this ballet is that it’s one of the classics that’s not super dramatic,” he says. “Nobody dies, there’s a happy ending. It’s lighthearted, even though there are some dark themes. Dr. Coppelius is a little bit of a crazy villain, but he comes around in the end—and it’s funny.”
The ballet originally premiered in 1870 in Paris, and it has been a standard in the repertoire ever since. The Houston Ballet’s production promises to be a feast of color, with sets and costumes by Desmond Heeley. Casady thinks the approachable story, combined with the technicality of the dancing, is sure to make the show a hit with audiences.
“I think they’ll walk out of the theater feeling like they saw a ton of beautiful dancing and that they’ve gone on this bizarre adventure with all these crazy characters. It’s really that kind of ballet.”
May 17–26. Tickets from $25. Wortham Theater Center, 615 Texas Ave. 713-227-2787. More info and tickets at houstonballet.org.