Tomorrow is Studio Dress for Coppélia! I’ve written numerous posts on Studio Dress — you can read them if you want. Also, I wouldn’t really argue if you wanted to buy tickets for Coppélia.
I’m so excited. I spent a good part of this semester telling myself not to be nervous, reminding myself to enjoy my final months at Butler. The spring of my sophomore year, I was one of the Little Swans in the Butler Ballet’s Swan Lake. I was nervous all the time. I couldn’t eat without feeling sick to my stomach, and I had nightmares that one of the dance professors locked me in the smallest ballet studio in the basement and wouldn’t let me out because he wanted me to practice.
Even last year I was nervous for Sleeping Beauty far in advance of the actual shows because I found out I was the last minute understudy for Aurora and learned the whole ballet in about three days. I had a dream that I had to go in because my friend who actually dancing the role decided she didn’t want to do and it and was laughing at me from the wings while I tried to do the grand pas, only I decided to change the choreography at the last minute and didn’t tell my partner… This dream = a nightmare.
This year, I’ve thrown myself in the fun of the role. As I’ve said before, Swanhilda is a real girl, not some remote princess or swan maiden, which makes her more approachable. When I leave the stage angry, I play over dialogue in my head so if I have to enter slightly more cheerful, I know how I got there; if I am to be upset, I cover my face in my hands sometimes so the other dancers don’t see what weird faces I’m sure I’m making. Keeping track of the emotional story gives the dancing purpose and makes it fun.
I did have one dream where the dance faculty told everyone that due to copyright issues, we would be performing Dracula instead of Coppélia, and I had three weeks to learn everything. The subconscious is an amazing thing…
When I learned I would dance the role of Swanhilda in the Butler Ballet’s upcoming production of Coppélia, one of the first things I did (after freaking out and then getting my hands to stop shaking) was to look up the meaning of Swanhilda’s name.
Alternate spellings are “Swanilda” or “Swanhilde,” but the cast list released to us had “Swanhilda,” so Swanhilda I am! Battle Swan.
There’s a balancing act here. I think Swanhilda can easily slip into all battle and no swan: She is sassy and wholly forthcoming, wrecking havoc in Dr. Coppélius’ toyshop, destroying his dream of a daughter-doll come to life.
I have to remember the small moments. I am shy but give in gratefully when Franz offers me a stalk of wheat; I look at Dr. Coppélius after I break the real Coppélia doll, accepting responsibility for my action, though maintaining its necessity with a look toward my confused fiancé; I bubble over with excitement upon encountering 1. dance 2. my friends 3. flowers.
Swanhilda likes to cause mischief, but I hope the impulse comes from frustration with Franz’ infatuation with Coppélia and a gleeful, prankster nature rather than from real hatred. I have no idea whether I’m succeeding in avoiding the overtly malicious. Swanhilda is a touch supercilious, perhaps, but only because she is young and in love and brimming over the edges with life.
Right, I sincerely hope this is an accurate assessment of Swanhilda’s character. Though I wouldn’t be surprised if someone wanted to contest the validity of the above, I am nonetheless having the time of my life.
Okay, now buy your tickets for Coppélia.
Saturday was a rehearsal whirlwind, with the day beginning at nine with the wedding pas from Act III of Coppélia. We used a new recording, which was about five times faster than the old one. I did one attitude promenade about fifty times. Start the day off with a bang!
Got my tote bag of shoes/leg warmers, my water bottle, and my tutu. Ready for rehearsal!
I like the Act III classical work. Swanhilda is so sassy in Act II and so emotional (angry/frustrated/happy) in Act I. Doing the wedding pas feels like drifting in a dream world. She is so gently happy to be with her rather flighty beau. She finally demonstrates and maintains a sensitivity and delicacy that comes and goes in the other acts.
She still gets her say, though — the variation is extremely playful, and that famous music provides the power that makes her so down-to-earth. Above all, she is just happy like one in a dream — happy to be with Franz, happy to be with her friends, and happy to be dancing. As one of the choreographers put it, “Franz is addicted to the bottle. You’re addicted to dancing.” More on Swanhilda’s obsession with dance later!
In a dance studio not terribly far away, Coppélia begins.
*cue Star Wars rolling theme credits/music*
Since one of our heavy rehearsal days last week was cancelled due to plumbing issues in Lilly Hall and I was traveling to Kansas City on Saturday, this week feels like the first real chunk of rehearsals. I have the good fortune to dance Swanhilda in Butler Ballet’s Coppélia. I am having so. much. fun.
In the last three days, I’ve learned, in addition to some Act I stuff/a variation from the previous week:
- Most of the end of Variations on a Slavic Theme with the Friends
- The wheat pas (a pas de dix in this version… though I’m not sure how it’s dix because a normal pas de deux has one couple, two people. So with a corps of eight couples, shouldn’t this be a pas de dix-huit? Or even a pas de neuf? My boyfriend tells me it’s like polypeptides: Once you get past a certain number, the peptides just become “many.”)
- The wedding adagio
- Some of the Swanhilda/Franz Act I mime/acting
- Part of the Act III Ribbon Dance (where I literally become a human Maypole, holding all the ribbons in a shoulder sit that rotates.)
Have I mentioned that I’m having a blast? I’ve never danced such a large part before — well, thanks to the foot injury that switched me from Sugarplum to Snow Queen in The Nutcracker, I’ve never performed an entire classical pas either — but Swanhilda is the perfect role.
I think I would be more nervous if I were dancing a princess or something — I had scary dreams about doing (and forgetting) the wedding pas from The Sleeping Beauty when I was understudying Aurora — but Swanhilda is a real girl, a normal girl, a girl in love who gets angry and hits her rather flighty fiancé over the head with flowers, who laughs with her friends and sneaks into Dr. Coppélius’ house and can be rather nasty but in the end understands a father’s love can be just like her own marital love. She’s much more human to me than a princess, and I’m so excited I have the chance to dance her.