by Maggie Menderski, The Courier-Journal
A love triangle and doll that’s so lifelike it’s perceived as a young woman causing chaos in Louisville’s Germantown neighborhood.
That’s part of the plot in Louisville Ballet‘s original production of “Coppelia,” which returns to the stage for the first time in seven years and opens this week at The Brown Theatre in downtown. Throughout the show, Louisvillians in the audience will recognize the steeple from St. Boniface Catholic Church, the neighborhood’s iconic water tower, and even The Courier Journal’s masthead in the backdrop. The artistic team has twisted this classic fantasy to highlight local history in a new World War I-era story.
The traditional storyline follows a harvest festival and the wobbly engagement of Swanhilde and Franz, who meet a lifelike doll named Coppelia. When Franz is smitten with the doll, his bride-to-be loses faith in their love and pending marriage. The original story is based on stories by German Romantic author E.T.A. Hoffmann, who also wrote “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.”
The Louisville Ballet is kicking off its 71st season by blending that classic story with a bit of historic Derby City charm. Robert Curran, Louisville Ballet’s artistic director, spent more than six months researching the storied Louisville neighborhood and its position in the city at the onset of the war.
In Curran’s reimagined ballet the story begins in the fall just months after the United States entered World War I as part of the Allies alongside the United Kingdom, France, and Russia.
Ahead of the Oct. 6 opening, I sat down with Curran to hear a little more about how the ballet company and its designers are paying homage to the original tale and bringing early 20th-century Louisville to life on the stage.
The following Q&A interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Courier Journal: Tell me about the research that you did for this concept?
Robert Curran: I wanted to preserve some of the story’s roots, so I was deliberately looking for things that would pay homage to the roots of this story. One of the first places I started my research was at the Filson Historical Society. I spent many, many hours in the Filson, and you can see all my folders of research there. It was an adventure digging into the Germantown history and getting to know all the names like St. Boniface, (which is the second oldest Catholic Church in Louisville and was named for the Apostle of Germany.)
It was a really fun research process of (exploring) what was going on in Louisville at the time, and very quickly it led me to The Courier Journal because … there was this journalism war going on about the role of German Americans in the War. I felt like that was a really interesting analogy. In the original version, they’re preparing for winter, and they’re getting married to really hunker down for the winter. I felt that was really a good analogy to getting ready for the war, although they didn’t know how dark those times were going to be.