Based on the book by Charles Nuitter, after E.T.A. Hoffmann’s “Der Sandmann,” Coppélia is considered one of the triumphant comic ballets of the 19th century. It marked the passing of ballet supremacy from France to Russia. Originally choreographed by Arthur St. Léon in Paris in 1870, it was restaged by Marius Petipa in St. Petersburg in 1884 and revised, again, by Lev Ivanov and Enrico Cecchetti in 1894. None of St. Léon’s choreography remains in today’s production, although Acts I and II retain his ideas and the story of mischievous young lovers. Balanchine provided entirely new choreography for Act III.
Léo Delibes (1836-1891) was born in St. Germain du Val and died in Paris. He learned music as a child from his mother and uncle. Renowned as a composer for dance, he had a gift for illustrating action, creating atmosphere, and inspiring movement. Although he spent many years as a church organist, he was drawn more to the theater, and he composed many light operas. The decisive advance in his career came in 1870, with his full-length ballet Coppélia, which includes melodic national dances, descriptive passages introducing the main characters, and musical effects that have captured audiences for more than 100 years.