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1780 ballet takes a look at AI issues


Borderlands Ballet Company’s 2024 production of the classic ballet, Coppélia, is about to open in Las Cruces.

If you haven’t heard of the comic ballet, “Coppélia,” don’t feel as if you are a dummy. The title character is actually the dummy. Or perhaps, better said, she is a life-sized automaton. The show is set in a quaint rural village of Galicia, where an eccentric and mysterious toymaker, Dr. Coppelius, has crafted a lifelike doll named Coppélia. Franz, a young man of the village, mistakes Coppélia for a real person and becomes infatuated by her mysterious beauty – much to the dismay of his true love, Swanilda. Deception and mischief abound as Swanilda and her friends sneak into Dr. Coppelius' workshop, setting the stage for a tale of mistaken identities and heartwarming revelations.

Ballet lovers might recognize some of the same themes in Coppélia as the more common Christmas classic, The Nutcracker. This is no coincidence, since both ballets are based on the writings of the German romantic author, E. T. A. Hoffman. The story of Coppélia is the story of the difference between people and robots. Even though Hoffman wrote before the advent of computers, he was very interested in what makes people special. His story poses the question: Is it possible that people are just very complex machines? Or, to put it the other way, is it possible to make a machine so complex that it comes to life? Today, with the rapid development of artificial intelligence, these questions are more pressing than ever. So, Borderlands Ballet’s production is not only comedic, but timely.