Cecilia Iliesiu as an SAB Student in George Balanchine's "Coppelia" Waltz of the Hours in 2003.

George Balanchine’s Coppélia is a ballet near and dear to my heart. As I rehearse for its opening in one week, I daydream about my memories as a wide-eyed 12-years-old girl dancing Coppélia. This ballet must tickle every little girl’s dreams of becoming a ballerina and twirling in a tutu on stage.

In 2003, I had been cast as one of the 24 little ballerinas to dance on the New York State Theater stage, now named the David H. Koch Theater. You can imagine, I was smitten. You certainly didn’t have to ask me twice to wear the cutest pink tutu and dance alongside the company dancers – those I only dreamt of becoming one day. Believe it or not, Peter Boal was a Principal dancer with NYCB at the time I first performed in Coppélia  – we have both come a long way since!

As a student chosen to be in a NYCB production, I took my role very seriously and would practice my choreography everywhere – the school cafeteria, at home, on the street, you name it. I had been auditioned by Children’s Ballet Mistress, Garielle Whittle months in advance and had been rehearsing on weekends and after school hours to feel absolutely prepared for our shining moments on stage. I performed Coppélia several times with NYCB at the NY State Theater and at their summer residency in Saratoga Springs. I remember my role perfectly – Group #3, girl in the middle, on stage left.

Flash forward 13 years and I have stepped into new shoes – those of the professional ballerina I had dreamt of those many years ago. I remember exactly how I felt dancing next to company ladies and now, I am one of them. Seeing the nerves and excitement on the students’ faces as they rehearse the Act III Waltz of the Hours warms my heart.

Swanilda & her friends in George Balanchine's "Coppélia." Photo by Angela Sterling.

This time around, I am learning three roles – a Villager, one of Swanhilda’s Friends and the corps de ballet of War & Discord. Unlike the months of rehearsals I had as a child for my one role, life as a professional dancer is quite different. The PNB dancers have exactly two weeks to learn the choreography of multiple roles and make it performance-ready.

We are halfway into rehearsal process and I have learned both dances in Villagers, the Friends Act I dance & Act II pantomime and none of War & Discord yet. I am looking forward to alternating between the roles and seeing the bright faces of those little ballerinas.

PNB performs Coppelia

April 15th through 23rd @ McCall Hall

Featured photo: Waltz of the Hours (PNB Students) in George Balanchine’s Coppélia. Photo by Angela Sterling.

Photos: Cecilia Iliesiu as a School of American Ballet Student in George Balanchine’s Coppélia Waltz of the Hours in 2003, photo courtesy of Cecilia Iliesiu. PNB dancer Lesley Rausch as Swanilda with her friends in George Balanchine’s Coppélia. Photo by Angela Sterling.