It's strange, really, how E.T.A. Hoffmann's works of speculative fiction have been redefined by composers and choreographers who've taken faintly macabre stories about mad inventors and seven-headed rat kings and converted them into light comedies and certifiable holiday traditions. This week, Mid-South dance fans whose appetites were whetted by recent interpretations of Hoffmann's The Nutcracker by Ballet Memphis and New Ballet Ensemble can take in yet another story about inanimate objects coming to life when the Moscow Festival Ballet brings Coppélia to the Germantown Performing Arts Centre.
Coppélia, a dance inspired by "The Sandman" and "The Puppet" — two of Hoffmann's shorter works — has been described as "the happiest ballet in the world," though it features weird alchemists and unsettlingly lifelike dolls and has much in common with darker works like Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Fritz Lang's Metropolis. It tells the story of Doctor Coppélius who has created a dancing robot so lifelike that a man named Franz falls in love with it, abandoning Swanhilde, his clever fiancée.
Léo Delibes' score is alternately sentimental and full of whimsy, providing the perfect soundscape for a mechanical ballerina to do the robot.