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The Director’s Take: Bengt Jörgen on Remaking Coppélia for a Contemporary Audience

February 6, 2019

Bengt Jörgen teaches company class on stage before the performance of Coppélia.

“Coppélia is one of the few surviving ballet classics.”



CBJ’s touring ballet, Coppélia: A Comedy with Love, is a truly unique production. “Many works get updated and gain new relevance over a period of time,” begins Artistic Director, Bengt Jörgen. “Most versions of Coppéliaare still pretty much the same as they’ve always been, but audiences are not the same as they were in the 1800s when this work was created. We’re trying to revitalize and revive it in a way that is really meaningful.”

Coppélia is one of the few surviving ballet classics. It is based on a dark E.T.A. Hoffmann story about a young man driven to insanity by his obsession with the beautiful doll, Coppélia, whom he mistakes for a real woman. The ballet itself became a comedic production, despite the drama of the original tale. “It turned into a comedy, although the original story was not funny at all,” explains Mr. Jörgen. “It became a bit of a pastiche. We hark back more to the substance of the story.”

Mr. Jörgen’s reimagining of Coppélia takes contemporary audiences on a touching and comical journey as the two-dimensional characters of Dr. Coppélius’ dollhouse become imbued with emotional dimension. Elaborating on the decisions he made in the remaking on the production, Mr. Jögen explains: “A major shift is that the ballet pretty much all takes place in the dollhouse, rather than the village. What seems wooden to us today works perfectly in the context of a dollhouse. The characters can be a little silly and two-dimensional. The key is what we do with them; they change. That is the journey that makes this a very interesting production for the dancers and for me as a choreographer.”



Clockwise: Hiroto Saito as Dr. Coppélius & Annelie Liliemark as Coppélia, photo by Linda Schettle Photography, Annelie Liliemark as Klara, photo by Kevin Lloyd Photography, Hiroto Saito as Dr. Coppélius & Daniel Da Silva as Nathanael, photo by Kevin Lloyd Photography


“This is a ballet for dancers now. It is a challenging work and very engaging to dance.”



CBJ’s Coppélia invites audiences deeper into the story with its reconceptualization of the ballet’s third act. “The original ballet is fundamentally over after the first two acts because everything has been resolved,” says Mr. Jörgen. “In my version, we made the story continue into the third act. While we have not followed the original Hoffmann story, I think the dramatic impact of the original is there underneath it.”

While Coppélia explores dramatic and tender themes, it nevertheless maintains its comedic value. “We haven’t removed the comedy,” says Mr. Jörgen. “I think we’ve heightened the comedy because the characters are real. It also works very well for children and families because the music is upbeat.”

Those who have seen the original ballet can expect something completely new from CBJ’s Coppélia. The changes to context and story are enhanced by the abandonment of the character boots traditionally used to perform the ballet. “There’s not a character boot to be seen in this production. It is all on pointe, so it’s dramatically different,” describes Mr. Jörgen. “This is a ballet for dancers now. It is a challenging work and very engaging to dance. It uses the technique of our artform to communicate a really great story in a funny way. If you like ballet, you should definitely come out and see it, and if you are not sure if ballet is for you, you’re going to have a great time.”

CBJ’s tour of Coppélia: A Comedy with Love continues to the end of April. Visit our season calendar to find a performance near you. It’s a production you won’t want to miss.


Written by Victoria Campbell Windle, CBJ Communications Contributor.

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