The Students of Coppélia

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 Lily Peta is 11 years old and a Level 3 student at SF Ballet School. This season she will be onstage with her classmates performing with the Company in Act III of Coppélia.

Although SF Ballet School students love to be a part of any ballet, Coppélia is very special. Instead of being a villager standing in the back, in Coppélia students get to danceThere are 24 students, ages 9-15, who act as a mini-corps de ballet during the third act. 

Last September, a group from the artistic staff came to watch my Level 3 class, including Jeff Lyons, Patrick Armand, Betsy Erickson, Anita Paciotti, and Helgi Tomasson. All of my classmates were serious and quiet, with no whispering at all. We learned some of the steps from the ballet and I was nervous, but happy, when the associate director of the School, Mr. Armand, asked me to demonstrate for the class. We then danced the steps one-by-one across the floor.

San Francisco Ballet School students in Balanchine's Coppélia. (© Erik Tomasson)

San Francisco Ballet School students in Balanchine’s Coppélia. (© Erik Tomasson)

Then we had to wait. Ten long days later, my mom got an email saying that I’d been invited to rehearse for Coppélia. We started right away, even though we were also rehearsing for NutcrackerIn all, we perform seven dances in Coppélia: the Waltz of the Hours, Dawn, Prayer, Spinner, Gestures (or Jingle Bells), the Storm, and the Finale. Until January, we only practiced the Waltz of the Hours because it’s the hardest. Each group performs different steps, and you can’t count on watching the person next to you because she’ll be doing something completely different. In the rest of the dances, our groups don’t matter since we’re all doing a lot of the same choreography.

San Francisco Ballet School students in the Waltz of the Hours from Balanchine's Coppélia. (© Erik Tomasson)

San Francisco Ballet School students in the Waltz of the Hours from Balanchine’s Coppélia. (© Erik Tomasson)

In January, we had a week of intense rehearsals every day for a few hours, preparing for a visit from the repetiteur from The Balanchine Trust (Coppélia was choreographed by George Balanchine and his Trust makes sure that the performances are up to his standards). We rehearsed so late that my sister fell asleep on the car ride home a few times. My trip home is pretty fast, but some of the dancers live an hour or more away. Having that many rehearsals ensures we are prepared—even over-prepared—so that the steps feel like second nature to us.  

At the end of that week, we learned that we would be performing the Waltz of the Hours in the Opening Night Gala. This was a dream come true and completely unexpected. Imagine being 11 years old, loving ballet, and being backstage with the Company dancers on one of the most exciting nights of the season, wearing a tutu and a tiara. Thrilling!

San Francisco Ballet School Students backstage during a performance of Balanchine's Coppélia. (© Erik Tomasson)

San Francisco Ballet School Students backstage during a performance of Balanchine’s Coppélia. (© Erik Tomasson)

How can I have gotten this far without mentioning the costume? It’s one of the best parts! At Gala, we got to see our tutus for the first time. We each have a beautiful tutu that’s pink-flecked with gold, with puffed sleeves, a matching tiara, and a black velvet choker. We all stand a little taller and feel a lot more grown up wearing these beautiful costumes. Coppélia is a great ballet for kids to watch, and it’s even more fun for kids to be part of!

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