Olympic Ballet Theatre dancer Alberto Gaspar leaps as Airi Miyata goes through her steps during a rehearsal for their upcoming performance of “Copellia.” (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Olympic Ballet Theatre dancer Alberto Gaspar leaps as Airi Miyata goes through her steps during a rehearsal for their upcoming performance of “Copellia.” (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Olympic Ballet’s comic act ‘Coppélia’ returns to stage

Love, jealousy and deception are among the themes in this ballet about a lifelike dancing doll.

What could be funny about a love triangle, jealousy and deception?

Plenty, especially if it’s all caused by a doll.

The Olympic Ballet Theatre is staging “Coppélia” April 7 at the Everett Performing Arts Center and April 14 and April 15 at the Edmonds Center for the Arts.

The story is set in a small Eastern European town. Infatuated youths Swanhilda and Franz plan to marry at an upcoming festival. Meanwhile, Dr. Coppelius, an eccentric doll maker, has just finished his newest creation.

Franz and Swanhilda’s romance turns awry when Franz falls for a beautiful woman, Coppélia, sitting on Dr. Coppélius’ balcony. Neither of them know she is a life-size doll, but when Swanhilda discovers the truth, she decides to impersonate the toy.

“Coppélia” originally staged in 1870. Mara Vinson and Oleg Gorboulev, artistic directors of the Edmonds-based Olympic Ballet Theatre, premiered their version in 2011, followed by its return in 2014.

This year’s shows feature two casts and around 60 performers, including professional dancers, principle soloists and students from the Olympic Ballet School.

“It’s a comedic performance,” Gorboulev said. “It is very kid-friendly.”

Ballet dancers cannot speak when they’re performing, so they use their body language to convey what’s happening in the story while accompanied by music, known as pantomime. Entire rehearsals were dedicated to perfecting gestures.

No other role is more important than Swanhilda’s, who rarely leaves the stage during the ballet’s three acts. Vinson, who previously danced at Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle, is reprising her role as Swanhilda in the Edmonds performances.

“The ballet is so much fun because you get to get portray this character who is such a brat,” said Vinson, who played Swanhilda in 2011 and 2014.

Translating Swanhilda’s emotions to the audience requires exaggerated gestures, puffy movements and childish behavior. Her jealously and frustration shines through early in the first act when she confronts Coppélia for stealing Franz’s gaze.

“Swanhilda thinks that it’s a real person, but it’s not,” Gorboulev said. “She gets mad that she doesn’t respond to her gestures.”

The role is also physically demanding. Swanhilda moves, jumps and dances at a brisk pace known as petit allegro. Then, in the second act, she impersonates Coppélia with jerky, doll-like motions. She resumes Swanhilda’s high energy in the third and final act.

“It requires a huge amount of cardio,” Vinson said. “You get into the story and you try not to think about how much you have to do.”

The theater, a nonprofit performing company, has grown since the last time “Coppélia” hit the stage. It established a trainee program in 2015 that awards partial and full scholarships to dancers between the ages of 18-24. Trainees expand their education while also gaining performance experience.

The goal is to continue growing the program, Gorboulev said.

“We’ll see where it takes us,” Gorboulev said. “It all comes down to funding.”

Donations led to the hiring of six professional dancers on 16-week contracts this past year, making the theater the only company in Snohomish County with paid dancers.

One of them is Alberto Gaspar. He’ll be on the receiving end of Swanhilda’s frustrations as the unfaithful boyfriend, Franz, at the Everett Performing Arts Center.

The 30-year-old Mexico City native previously performed with the Pittsburg Ballet Theatre, Horiuchi Ballet in Japan, the St. Louis Ballet and Ballet Memphis.

Gaspar is naturally a playful, childish spirit — a contrast from the macho role of Franz.

“I have to look at myself in the mirror and look manly,” Gaspar said.

He said “Coppélia” should be a hit for all ages.

“I think the fun about doing this type of ballet is that people can relate to them,” Gaspar said. “A lot of ballets can be abstract. But this has a real story. When it’s a real story, it becomes very human.”

Frank Borg plays Dr. Coppélius in all performances, Airi Miyata is Swanhilda in the Everett performance and Josh Deininger is Franz in the Edmonds performance.

Students from the Olympic Ballet School, ages 8 to 18, will play the townsfolk.

If you go

“Coppélia” will be performed by the Olympic Ballet Theatre at 2 p.m. April 7 at the Everett Performing Arts Center, 2710 Wetmore Ave.

The ballet returns the following weekend at 2 p.m. April 14 and 5 p.m. April 15 at the Edmonds Center for the Arts, 410 Fourth Ave. N.

For tickets, go to www.olympicballet.com or call 425-774-7570.

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