Behind the Scenes: Coppélia

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Virginia Holte is the Founder and Artistic Director for West Hawaii Dance Theatre (WHDT) and Guest Instructor/Choreographer for The Maui Academy of Performing Arts. Ms. Holte has been sharing her love of ballet and movement with the Hawaii community since 1986. She has been responsible for reconstructing and adapting classical ballets such as Sleeping Beauty, GiselleNutcracker, and the comedic ballet Coppélia, which was featured at the Kahilu Theatre last Saturday.

Prior to the performance, I had the pleasure of speaking with Ms. Holte and Maestro Brian Dollinger who conducted the WHDT Orchestra for Coppélia.

Mako Yamamoto as Coppélia

Briefly, what’s the backstory of the ballet Coppélia?

Holte: Coppélia is a classical ballet, but it’s also a comedy. It’s set in a tiny village where Swanhilda is betrothed to Franz. Dr. Coppelius is a toy maker in the village, and all of a sudden there’s this beautiful girl, Coppélia, who appears in his window. Well, Franz thinks this could be his new girlfriend since he thinks she’s flirting with him, but actually Dr. Coppelius is kind of playing a trick. So, Swanhilda finds out it’s just one of the dolls and decides to play a trick on Dr. Coppelius by pretending to be Coppélia. Everything works out, and Swanhilda and Franz continue their wedding celebration and the town celebrates.

Timor Bourtasenkov as Dr. Coppelius

What went into the selection of this ballet?

Holte: Well, we have girl students in their senior year. They’ve been studying with us for about eight to fifteen years. And we asked them, before they go off to college, what ballet they wanted to do. And these two particular girls, Enna Hendrickson and Marko Yamamoto, decided on Coppélia. There are 80 cast members and 25 musicians in our orchestra for this production.

How long have you been working on Coppélia?

Holte: We decided to do this production last year in the springtime. We usually try to set everything about a year in advance, and we started working on the choreography for it in February, right after Nutcracker. Timor Bourtasenkov (Dr. Coppelius), who is our guest artist, came in April, and we did a week with him. He flew in on Thursday from North Carolina, to just do the role.

Enna Hendrickson as Swanhilda

What was it like working with Maestro Brian Dollinger?

Holte: This is the third time we’ve worked together.  The last two times were on Nutcracker. He’s one of the few conductors that I found out is really into ballet and interested in helping with the tempos and really creating the atmosphere with the orchestra for that. So, we’re just going to keep him forever, if we can! (laughs) He flew in from Illinois. As long as wants to keep coming on that long flight…

Dollinger: WHDT have always had a production in May each year, and it’s always been their goal to have live musicians with the ballet. This is the first time we’ve been able to supply that. Having a live orchestra perform with live dancing really takes the entire event come to life at a whole new level for the audience. I think this will become an annual event.

The music for this performance is lively, engaging, and helps tell the story on stage. For me, the best compositions are the ones that are timeless. The colors and the rhythms bring it all to life, and it’s really fantastic!

Andrew Fung as Franz

What can you tell me about West Hawaii Dance Theatre, and how those interested get involved?

Holte: They can go to our website (http://whdt.org) and find out more about us. We’re a non-profit organization, and we list all of our classes, our workshops. We have workshops with special visiting guests and have year-round classes. It’s a comprehensive dance program, so they can not only take ballet, but we also have injury prevention, contemporary jazz tap, and we try to make a full program so that the kids would be prepared if they want to go to college or in a dance company. So, we’re like a college prep type of thing.

Does WHDT have any future projects in the planning stages?

Holte: Nutcracker is coming up. That’s in six months, but you can never start too early with that. We’ll be bringing in guest artists and a full orchestra. Next year, Timor Bourtasenkov has created a ballet called The Jungle Book. So, we’ll be doing that for one of the half-hours, and after intermission, we’ll be doing a classical ballet. We haven’t decided on that yet, but that’s coming up May 23rd in 2020.

Dollinger: Be sure to check out the Kamuela Philharmonic’s site (http://www.kamuelaphil.org) for upcoming performances. We have collaborations all the time, and great music here on the island.


Steve Roby is a music journalist, best-selling author, and originally from San Francisco. He’s been featured in the NY Times, Rolling Stone, and Billboard Magazine. Roby is also the Managing Editor of Big Island Music Magazine.

Photos: Steve Roby

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