Living Doll

One dancer's approach to dancing Swanilda in Coppelia.
Published in the August/September 2007 issue.

Of all the full-length classical ballets, Coppélia charms audiences with humor above everything else. The ballet tells the tale of Swanilda and Franz, who are engaged to be married. When Franz falls for a doll, Swanilda impersonates it, and mayhem ensues. Here, Texas Ballet Theater’s Jayme Autrey Griffith offers her thoughts on the lead role, which she will reprise when the company presents Ben Stevenson’s Coppélia September 21-23 in Fort Worth. For more:  www.texasballettheater.org
—Jocelyn Anderson

The role of Swanilda is special to me because when I was in the academy at Houston Ballet, I got to be the Coppélia doll and switch spots with the principals. Then when I moved to Texas Ballet Theater in 2003, Swanilda was my very first role with the company.

It was pretty easy for me to portray that character because that was who I was. I was only 17 or 18 when I did it. She’s naïve, daring and adventurous, kind of a flirt. I acted like myself. It was one of the best experiences of my life.

I’m pretty intimidated to do it this next time. I’m kind of scared! Last time, I was a new face and no one knew me. Also, I was young and didn’t know any better. Now I’ve performed a lot more, people know me, and they expect something out of me. That adds to the pressure. And I’m not that young girl anymore. I’m married now. I’ve danced Cleopatra and things like that. So it adds a whole new dimension to it.

To go back and be that innocent girl, I have to pay attention to the acting a little more. I’m going to watch how I did it last time, because I think I was natural. But I can’t do the same thing, otherwise I haven’t improved at all. Also, I read a lot whenever I do a part. For Coppélia, I got the children’s books. They break down the story, and I can go through the ballet in my head, matching up some of the words in the books to the steps. Of course, there’s a lot of dancing too. You have all those variations—you want to die afterward—but they are so much fun. Then you save Franz and go into the wedding, when you dance the pas de deux. You’re still young and excited, but you’ve matured a little bit through the whole thing.”