Peter Boal returns to stage in Pacific Northwest Ballet's upcoming 'Coppélia'
An interview with Pacific Northwest Ballet artistic director Peter Boal, who will play Dr. Coppelius on stage in the company's upcoming production of "Coppélia." The George Balanchine ballet is the one that first caught his interest as a young boy in New York City.
Seattle Times arts writer
Pacific Northwest Ballet artistic director Peter Boal first saw George Balanchine's "Coppélia" at New York City Ballet, when he was 9 years old. It was the beginning of a life in dance. "I want to do that," he told his parents.
During his career at NYCB, Boal danced several roles in "Coppélia," including the principal male role of Franz. Now, at 44, he's come full circle: Though retired from performing since taking his position at PNB in 2005, he's returning to the stage this week in the ballet's primary character role — one that emphasizes acting over dancing, like Herr Drosselmeier in "Nutcracker." For two performances, Boal will play eccentric Dr. Coppelius, who has created in his workshop the life-sized doll Coppélia — and believes that the doll has, in fulfillment of his dreams, come to life.
"I always find great value in the lessons of mime and facial expressions," Boal said last week, of the acting challenges of Dr. Coppelius. "It's quite touching, how lonely Dr. Coppelius is — a sort of sad naiveté. There's a sweetness to it." He's inspired by memories of NYCB dancer Shaun O'Brien in the role, decades ago. "Balanchine put the most beautiful music in the entire score at the moment when [Coppélia] first breathes, and she first starts to move like a human, and I remember Shaun's face — it was as if 'somebody did answer my prayers.'
Boal praised the three PNB dancers who will also play the role during the run (Jeffrey Stanton, Olivier Wevers and Jordan Pacitti). "Each of them is so distinct and so funny," he said. They've done some rehearsal together, with stager Judith Fugate, finding their own nuances in the role. Boal, though, has some added challenges. "There's a point [in the ballet] when Dr. Coppelius is being dragged around the stage. He's in a real physical battle with Franz. Franz throws him off, and he has to catch his breath and pant. That was very real for me," Boal said with a laugh. "I hadn't moved quite that fast in a while."
Though Boal, who will dance the role on Thursday's opening night and the evening of June 5, said that his return to the stage "isn't going to become a habit," he's delighted to have the chance to find something new in a long-beloved ballet. And will he have a few backstage jitters opening night? "I'm not one to get nervous," he said, "but I kind of think I will."
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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