Between puppets and the living

Between puppets and the living

Coppélia by Colorado Ballet

Her choppy movements turn smoother and smoother, her eyes start to awaken, and her legs can suddenly move in more directions than just up and down. I am witnessing how a puppet becomes alive on stage at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House – or, describing the truth behind the scene, how an intelligent young woman makes an inventor believe that his puppet has become alive. But: let’s start at the beginning of the story.

The curtain rises, and the sophisticated combination of the stage set and the dancers’ costumes transports the spectator to a small European town several hundred years ago. The audience voices tiny giggles while witnessing the impressive attempts from the young lady Swanhilda to get the attention of Coppélia, a girl reading a book while sitting on a balcony right at the center of the town. Leah McFadden, in the role of Swanhilda, captures the audience’s attention immediately by playing with her facial expressions, accompanied by a back and forth between graceful, joyful movements and decisive steps full of disappointment at being ignored. She gets a small break when Christopher Moulton, the “Franz” of tonight’s show, replaces Swanhilda. Now, it is his turn to try to get Coppélia’s attention. After Dr. Coppelius’, who later turns out to be the crafter of Coppélia and many more human-sized dolls, activates her clock, she starts moving. To Franz’s disappointment, however, she returns to her book, not noticing his languishing adoration. The scene turns into a duo when Swanhilda returns, furious about Franz’s unfaithfulness. As a strong female character, she not only mocks him, imitating his movements and ridiculing his behavior but also turns him down several times, when later in the scene, he asks her to marry him.

Dancers: Leah-McFadden, Christophor-Moulton, and Artists of Colorado Ballet
Photographer: Amanda-Tipton

During their argument, as well as the joyful dance of the Mazurkas interrupting their discussion, the dancers’ synchronicity and the perfect alignment with the orchestra conducted by Dr. Catherine Sailer, are particularly impressive. When the guest artist Gregory K. Gonzales joins the stage as the mayor, who promises dowries to all couples who want to get married the following day, the dances get even more joyful, including different dance formations such as mirroring and elements of social, circle, and line dance. The audience’s impression of having turned into a time traveler is enhanced by the artistic decision to have all dancers constantly on stage, blending in with the audience as spectators and creating an ambience of honestly sitting on a bench in the marketplace in the town center.

Right before the first act ends, the male part of the ensemble gets the chance to make fun of their very own artistic director, Gil Boggs, in the role of Dr. Coppelius while spinning him around in circles. When they are mocking the old inventor, he loses his key, laying the foundation for the following storyline.

In the second act, we follow Swanhilda and her friends inside Dr. Coppelius’ shop, where they are at first afraid and then enjoy the shows of the Soldier Doll, the Harlequin Doll, and the Magician Doll, danced by Sean Omandam, Kenny Allen, and Alexander Holms. Again, in this scene, the stage design supports the dance gracefully with moving pieces such as Penny-farthings and paintings dangling from the ceiling. The puppets inspire Swanhilda, who puts on Coppélia’s clothes, while Dr. Coppelius, who has returned and scared all her friends away, drinks Franz into his sleep. The latter had climbed up a ladder to reach Coppélia’s balcony. The following sequence is a masterpiece in acting and dancing simultaneously. While Dr. Coppélius conducts magical gestures, Swanhila makes him believe that his spells work and his doll awakes to life. Dancing with several props from different dolls, ranging from a fan to a sword, Leah shows how to captivate Dr. Coppelius and the audience alike, before finally running away with the woken-up Franz.

Dancers: Gil Boggs and Leah McFadden
Photographer: Amanda-Tipton

The last act is a celebration showcasing all the elements a ballet can hold. From solo dances to Pas de deux to whole group choreographies, the entire town comes to life to celebrate the newlywed couples. Even Dr. Coppelius becomes part of the happy end when the mayor hands him a sack of gold to relieve his anger from Swanhilda’s mockery.

Overall, the ensemble brings the two stories from E.T.A. Hoffmann that forms the foundation for this piece on stage in a delicate manner. Children and adults laugh at small details, such as Gil Boggs’ embodiment of the charming character of Dr. Coppelius when jumping up the stairs to his shop. The dancers execute the high-level choreographies with such ease that they appear to be effortless, and the mix between doll movements and the smooth fairy-like movements of ballet builds a nice contrast throughout the piece. The playful content of the story and the colorful costumes make it particularly suitable for spring.


Lilith Diringer is a young graduate student in the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies Public Policy Program, and in parallel enrolled in the Jazz program with a vocal focus at the Lamont School of Music. With a diverse background in performing arts, Lilith has been on stage since childhood, displaying her versatility as a musician, theatrical performer, and on-screen actor. She has participated in dance theatre performances directed by notable figures such as Olek Konrad Witt and choreographers like Olimpia Scardi, exploring various dance forms, including hip-hop, modern, jazz, and rock’n’roll acrobatics. Additionally, she enjoys pushing the boundaries of dance, intertwining it with other disciplines, such as circus arts, combining dance and partner acrobatics, and exploring aerial dance. Beyond her performances, Lilith’s academic research focuses on the role of Performing Arts in international diplomacy and Development and Peace projects for at-risk youth globally. Her work delves into the storytelling elements in performances and addresses sustainability both on and behind the stage. Since 2014, she has also worked as a journalist for many newspapers and online magazines, including covering the Paralympics in Tokyo and Beijing for the biggest newspaper in Berlin, Germany – the tagesspiegel. Lilith Diringer stands at the intersection of academia and artistry, bringing a unique blend of passion, versatility, and a commitment to positive change through Performing Arts which she loves to comment on in her articles.