Le Ballet du Siecle de Taipei (世紀舞匯) is one of the small dance troupes in Taiwan that often operate under the radar of many dance fans, largely because it is a ballet company in a modern-dance mecca. However, the almost seven-year-old troupe, founded by Li Lin Lili (李林莉莉) in 2006, has steadily built a reputation by trying to stage at least two productions of classical ballet a year.
While its ticket prices ensure that it’s family-friendly — usually in the NT$500 to NT$600 range — the company does not shy away from ambitious productions, including Swan Lake.
This weekend the troupe is staging a smallish production of Coppelia — small in the sense that it will not be performed on a traditional stage, but in the second floor performance space of the Fruit Wine Building at Huashan 1914 Creative Park (華山1914) in Taipei.
Coppelia is a great ballet for youngsters (or non-ballet fans) to see because it’s humourous, and it works well for small companies because it does not require a big cast. The libretto is based upon a story published by the German writer E.T.A. Hoffmann in 1815, entitled Der Sandmann (The Sandman), set to a score by Leo Delibes.
The ballet was choreographed by Arthur Saint-Leon, the ballet master of the Paris Opera, and first performed by that company in 1870. It is Saint-Leon’s most famous work.
In brief, Coppelia tells the story of a mechanical doll created by Doctor Coppelius as a companion for himself. However, the doll Coppelia appears so life-like that a young man, Franz, falls in love with her, even though he is already engaged to a village maiden named Swanhilda. This makes Swanhilda jealous so she, in turn, does things to try and make Franz jealous, like dancing with another man. Franz then retaliates by dancing with another woman.
Later, Swanhilda and her friends sneak into Coppelius’ house, where they discover Coppelia and several other mechanical dolls, which they wind-up and set in motion. When Coppelius returns home, the other girls flee, but Swanhilda hides in a closet and puts on Coppelia’s clothes to pretend to be the doll. When Franz arrives and tells Coppelius that he is in love with Coppelia and wants to marry her, the doctor gives him a potion to knock him out. Coppelius then brings out his doll and tries an experiment to bring her to life, unaware it is really Swanhilda in disguise. Swanhilda dances for the doctor, but eventually causes chaos.
In the end, the masquerade is revealed, Franz recognizes that he really loves Swanhilda and the ballet ends with their wedding.