'Coppelia' a happy, family-friendly ballet

As classical ballets go, Leo Delibes' "Coppelia" is more believable than most. There are no ghosts dancing in the moonlight (as in "Giselle"); no fairies casting spells ("The Sleeping Beauty"); no maidens transformed into graceful swans ("Swan Lake").

There is mystery in "Coppelia," which Wichita Grand Opera will present Tuesday in Century II Concert Hall. But the story about the toymaker who builds lifelike mechanical dolls is resolved by flirtatious deception, not spells. When the beautiful doll Coppelia is seemingly brought to life, it is only the play-acting of a pretty peasant girl in disguise.

"It is a happy ballet," said Parvan Bakardiev, general director of Wichita Grand Opera. "And the music is very pretty. It is easy to digest, and the story is very cute."

"Coppelia" will be staged by the touring Moscow Festival Ballet to conclude Wichita Grand Opera's 2009-2010 season. The company was founded in 1989 by famous Russian dancer Sergei Radchenko. The ballet's 55 dancers from Russia are trained in the rigorous but gorgeous style of the famous Bolshoi and Kirov ballet companies.

"The ballet expresses artistry that is rare today," Bakardiev said. "Look at 'Dancing With the Stars' — it is a really popular show because the visual and the musical elements go hand in hand, and you have really good dancers."

"Coppelia" has remained one of the most popular of the big, romantic story ballets from the 1800s. It was inspired by a story by E.T.A. Hoffmann and was first performed in Paris in 1870 with choreography by Arthur Saint-Leon. Delibes' musical score made him famous.

In "Coppelia," romance is the innocent, happily-ever-after kind. In a picturesque town, the mysterious Coppelius, an inventor and alchemist, builds a menagerie of mechanical dolls. When a young man, Franz, flirts with an unknown girl sitting in Coppelius' window, his betrothed, Swanilda, catches him at it.

Both separately conspire to enter Coppelius' workshop to confront the mystery girl. Swanilda discovers it's only a doll, Coppelia, and disguises herself in its clothes to teach Franz a lesson. As Franz enters, so does Coppelius, who recites incantations to bring the doll to real life. Lo and behold, her mechanical movements become the graceful steps of a young girl; she dances and twirls around the room. But it is, after all, only Swanilda — who flees the house with Franz. Coppelius is heartbroken; his real doll remains lifeless.

The final scene of the three-act ballet is a celebration, where Franz and Swanilda are happily married and peasants dance to the familiar music of Delibes' "Dance of the Hours."

"It's a spectacle in terms of production," Bakardiev said. "This is a little like a Ziegfeld (Follies) show, because they are coming with lighting and sets and costumes, which add to the story. It is easy to present a fairy tale when you support it with visual effects."

Because of the friendly, G-rated story, Wichita Grand Opera is offering special ticket packages to encourage families to attend the ballet together. Four tickets are available for $100 or $140, offering savings of up to $92 off single ticket prices.

"We are trying to build the audience of tomorrow," Bakardiev said. "We have a responsibility to deliver this kind of education and entertainment to our future generations."

If you go


What: Wichita Grand Opera presents "Coppelia" by Moscow Festival Ballet

Where: Century II Concert Hall, 225 W. Douglas

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday

How much: Tickets are $35, $58 and $85, discounts available. Special family pricing: Four tickets for $100 or $140. For more information, visit www.selectaseat.com or call 316-262-8054.