By Matt Hickman

This weekend, the Anchorage Ballet partners with Ballet Idaho to bring a performance to the Atwood Concert Hall that brings more elements of storytelling an acting than most.

That’s music to the ears of the show’s star, Jessica Sulikowski, an 11-year veteran of the Boise-based company, who’s making ‘Coppelia' her sixth collaboration with the Anchorage studio.

“I like acting and I like telling the story because that’s what I really think well done dancing and choreography should be is telling a story,” Sulikowski said. “In comparison to all the dancing and variations of other ballets, this lets you really dive into the character.”

Sulikowski, a native of New Jersey, who was spotted by a director at Ballet Idaho doing a performance of ‘The Nutracker’ and offered a professional gig 11 years ago, takes on the role of Swanhilda, who doesn’t trust the overtures of fidelity from her suitor Franz because of a doll in town, propped up by a mad scientist of sorts — Dr. Coppelius.

“The whole ballet is about this crazy mechanic who makes all these dolls and one of them is sitting in this town square. It’s a beautiful woman and Swanhilda and all her friends think all the men are falling in love with her,” Sulikowski said. “Her boyfriend tries to propose in the first act and she says, ‘I don’t think so,’ and in the second act she sneaks into Coppelius’ home, finds out it’s a doll, then she dresses as the doll, fools (the doctor) and Franz sneaks in to meet this beautiful woman. Then, he gets drugged and the doctor wants to steal his soul and put it in the doll. Act 3, though, everyone makes up and it’s a very classical wedding scene with a duet between the main characters and there’s lots of variations.”

Nathan Powell, a 13-year veteran of Ballet Idaho, and regular counterpart of Sulikowski’s in performances there, plays the role of Franz.

“I find it has an interesting juxtaposition,” Powell said. “There’s so much beautiful music and it’s so good for dancing mixed with long scenes of acting with pantomime. It’s a detailed story about Coppelia, the doll, with the doctor, so it’s a really interesting two-sided approach that brings you in touch with the characters, but you also get to enjoy some of the best music for dancing, ever.”

Powell said Coppelia enables dancers to use more of their acting chops than many ballets.

“There’s more continuous pantomime,” he explained. “A lot of others use small segments of it here and there for a bit of story and let the dances carry more of the emotion. It’s less of an emotional ballet and more comedic. There’s a little more story to tell, especially in the second act.”

Local opera and ballet regular John Fraser plays the role of Dr. Coppelius and Anchorage Ballet students round out the cast of about 20. This is the first time Anchorage Ballet has attempted Coppelia.

“It’s a staple of a ballet — like Nutcracker — for a company to tackle,” said Michelangelo Canale, Anchorage Ballet artistic director. “It’s definitely a big ballet, but what prompted me is it’s one you can do with a small cast, as well.”

Sulikowski and Powell last teamed up in Anchorage for a performance of ‘Aurora’ an Alaskan-produced show about the northern lights, in which Powell played the role of a caribou. Sulikowski, who has done some guest performances outside of Idaho, including with the Nevada Ballet Theatre, also starred in an independent movie called ‘Almosting It’.

“I’ve always liked the acting part of dance,” she said.

Coppelia plays Friday, May 17 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at the Performing Arts Center. Tickets are available at at centertix.com.

“People who come are going to be treated to some excellent dancing and some beautiful music,” Powell said. “It’s a chance to forget about your life for a moment and get lost in the moment of ballet.”

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