It’s harvest time in a rural village. Swanilda runs out of her house to celebrate with her friends. As they dance around, Swanilda notices a very beautiful girl sitting on the balcony of the crazy magician’s house. She invites the girl down to hang out with them but with little success – the girl ignores her and Swanilda, now very gumpy, storms off.
Franz enters with a bouquet of flowers for Swanilda. They are about to get married! He goes up to the door of her house, but on the way is distracted by the beautiful stranger on the balcony – Swanilda is forgotten. He professes his love to the new girl, but she ignores him too. Swanilda, watching through the window, is not very impressed. When Franz comes to his senses and bring Swanilda her flowers, she turns him down dramatically. Franz goes to drown his sorrows in the tavern with his friends but everyoe else is still celebratng the harvest. The festival continues with a gift of a new bell to the church from a wealthy family, and dancing to celebrate. Swanilda is not very pleased with her fiancee. She dances and laughs with her friends but Franz gets the cold shoulder. Eventually they dance together but things are still a little tense.
The magician comes out onto the balcony to bring the beautiful girl in. She waves stiffly to the crowd and disappears. It’s just a moment, but once again Franz is smitten and Swanilda is very annoyed. The crowd disperses at the end of the day, but Swanilda is not ready to go home. Finding the magician’s house key on the ground, she convinces her friends to sneak into his house and solve the mystery of the strange girl.
The girls find their way to the magician’s workshop. It’s strewn with statues and dummies dressed up in finery. They play around with the figures and are shocked to find that they can move on their own! They are the magician’s experiments, life like machines. They find the girl – Coppelia – sitting in a cupboad. Swanilda is ecstatic to find that she is a machine. She laughs at the thought of Franz falling in love with a doll!
The magician storms in, raging in anger as he sees the girls disrupting his experiments. All the girls are chased out, except Swanilda who hides in Coppelia’s cupboard. The magician restores order and packs Coppelia away. Peace at last – until a noise is heard from the window and Franz tumbles into the room! Like Swanilda he is also curious to see this beautiful girl.
The magician is more placid this time, because he has a use for Franz. Coppelia is his favourite machine and he wants to bring her to life and all he needs is a real human to steal life from. Franz is doped and strung up on a spinning machine. The magician brings out Coppelia to animate her perfectly and finally with the life he will suck from Franz. He opens the door, but the magician doesn’t realise that it’s not Coppelia – it’s Swanilda dressed in her clothes! He sets to work running his machine and casting spells. Swanilda responds, moving with more and more grace until she moves like a human being, and then moving with more and more independence until the magician can no longer control her. She sets his workshop into chaos again, waiting until Franz revives so they can escape. When Franz comes to, she takes him off the machine and helps him out the window. The magician is left alone in his chaotic workshop, heartbroken , holding his inanimate doll.
The next day is the culmination of the harvest festival, as well as Franz and Swanilda’s wedding. The community celebrates with dances: A dance to celebrate the passing of time, a dance to celebrate the sun and a dance to celebrate prayer. Finally Franz and Swanilda emerge dancing from the church. Their quarrels are resolved and they are married!
Pictures from the Australian Ballet website.