Thursday, April 12, 2012

Interview With Alexandra Kochis About Her Role In Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's "Coppelia"


by Sarah Davis
{Alexandra Kochis and Christopher Budzynski rehearse for Coppelia.  Photo taken by Aimee Waltz}

Style & Wisdom: Tell us a little bit about your character in Coppelia, Swandhilde?
Alexandra Kochis: Swanhilde is a bit different from your average ballet heroine in that she is an incredibly vivacious, feisty and independent woman.  She takes matters into her own hands and isn't just waiting around for her Prince Charming to arrive.  She and Franz are young sweethearts who, though they do care about each other, aren't quite sure how to express it yet and neither wants to be the first one to take the plunge and say how they really feel.  So instead they tease each other and compete with each other, always trying to out do one another.  It's a really fun role to play because there is lots of challenging and bravura technique but you also really have to build a complete and believable character with enough depth that the audience will feel something for her and her predicament.  This is something I especially enjoy incorporating into my dancing.  

S&W: For those reading who aren't aware of this particular ballet, can you give us a brief overview?
AK: The ballet of Coppelia tells the story of two young lovers, Swanhilde and Franz, who are still in that phase of their relationship where they don't quite know how to express their affections for one another yet.  They tease each other, compete with each other and try to make each other jealous.  One morning in the village, a new girl appears on the balcony of Dr. Coppelius' house.  He is the somewhat eccentric old inventor/toy maker in town.  Swanhilde tries to introduce herself to the new girl who ignores her and continues reading her book.  Franz spots the new girl while no one else is around and tries to catch her eye, as she is quite attractive.  What no one realizes is that the beautiful new girl, Coppelia, is really an extremely life-like doll that Dr. Coppelius' has made.  And thus the stage is set.  Swanhilde catches Franz trying to woo Coppelia and gets jealous.  Unbeknownst to each other, they both decide to break into Dr. Coppelius' workshop and find out just who this girl is.  While Swanhilde is in the workshop with her friends they discover that Coppelia is just a doll but Dr. Coppelius arrives home and shoos them all out save Swanhilde who hides in the closet with the doll.  Just then Franz sneaks in the window to try to find the "beautiful new girl" but Dr. Coppelius is ready for him.  After Franz explains that he is in love with the mystery girl, Dr. Coppelius gets the idea that he will drug Franz and, through a series of spells, capture his essence and bring his beloved Coppelia doll to life.  What Dr. C doesn't realize is that Swanhilde has dressed up in the doll's clothes and when he begins to work his "magic" bringing her to life, it is really just Swanhilde having some fun with him.  Hilarity ensues and there is a happy ending for all, culminating in a wedding for Swanhilde and Franz.

S&W: Coppelia is described as a comedy.  PBT just recently did a production of the very intense, A Streetcar Named Desire.  Do you find that it is easier to be serious on stage or play a tad more fun role?  
AK: I don't know that one is easier or more difficult to play than the other since, in both instances, the big challenge is trying to create a believable character that the audience can identify with in one way or another.  In playing a more serious role you want the audience to be able to see inside your character- their soul and their motivations- so the audience can feel something towards your character, be it empathy or hatred or whatever.  While in a comedic role such as Swanhilde there is a lot of timing to work out, both with the music and physically with the other characters on stage.  Both approaches are challenging but it's a big part of what I love about dancing story ballets.

S&W: How long have you been with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre?
AK: This is my sixth season with PBT.

S&W: When you're not dancing, what could we find you doing?
AK: During the season we are kept quite busy but I relax by cooking with my husband (fellow PBT principal Christopher Budzynski), or taking walks in nearby North Park, we also have an occasional friendly poker night some weekends.  And once the season is over we really love to get outdoors.  We hike, camp, kayak, and sail.  This summer we are planning a sailing charter to St. Maarten.  And I would like to say I golf although I am hopelessly out of practice. 

Alexandra Kochis
S&W: I read that you are working with your husband in this production? Does your real-life relationship make your on-stage chemistry easier or harder?
AK: I love working with Chris.  We know each other so well that you can be frank and to the point about a lot of things while you are working and there is also that deep sense of trust there that is extremely comforting on stage. And with a ballet like Coppelia, we can incorporate a bit of our own personal relationship dynamics into the mix.  I think we do have a little friendly competition in our relationship so, we can work off of that.  We also both love to pay very close attention to the music and try to let that inform a lot of our choices as far as timing and character so, in that sense, it is easier to make our performance more seamless.  Of course living and working together can get a bit trying at times but we've gotten pretty good at balancing the two.

S&W: What are some of your favorite things to do in Pittsburgh?
AK: I enjoy an afternoon exploring, shopping and eating in the Strip district with all it's various ethnic restaurants and markets.  I love taking walks in the many city parks and really enjoy all the amazing areas that are so accessible just outside the city like McConnells Mill State Park, Moraine State Park and Ohiopyle State Park.  Chris and I will drive out there to camp, kayak, play disc golf or hike.

S&W: This is the last performance from Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre this year, what can we expect from you in next year's lineup of ballets?!
AK: Next year is really exciting because we will be performing one of my all time favorite classical ballets "Giselle" in the fall, we will be doing a production of "Moulin Rouge" which will be new to me so I am looking forward to that and to working with the choreographer Jordan Morris who brought his production of "Peter Pan" to PBT this season.  The mixed rep for next year is exciting because it includes a ballet "Lilac Garden" choreographed by Anthony Tudor.  I have never had the opportunity to perform any Tudor works so this will be a real treat.  And this is just a sampling of things that are in store for next season. You can see a full description on our website www.pbt.org.

S&W: Finally, I'm always at Whole Foods and I always see the Barre dancer snack/nutrition bar and was surprised to find out that another principal from PBT actually created this.  
AK: We are all so proud of Aaron and Julia (the creators of Barre).  What they have done in starting their own business is truly remarkable ... and delicious!  I am definitely a frequent customer.

"Coppelia", presented by the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, plays at the Benedum Center from April 13-15.  Tickets are available at pbt.org/coppelia.  

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