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American Ballet Theatre

'Don Quixote'

by Jeff Kuo

July 26 -27, 2003 -- Costa Mesa, CA

Story ballet, full evening work, divertissement, vehicle for virtuosity --"Don Quixote" is all of these things, and yet less as much as more. In some ways, "Don Quixote" is the victim of its own motley ambitions.

The ballet tries hard to represent something it's not -- it's not exactly a story ballet in the sense that "Romeo and Juliet" or "Onegin" are story ballets. "Don Quixote" stops to showcase its dancers far too often for that. Yet, it's not a divertissement ballet in the sense that "Sleeping Beauty" or "Cinderella" are -- this production holds too tightly to its storylines. I think this production forgets that difference is its comedic engine. The sequences of narrative shouldn't flow seamlessly into the sequences of pure dance -- they should positively clash. Comic energy is released by the struggle for dominance between narrative and dance.

In the typical production, Act I starts with a pas de deux for Kitri and Basilio to win the audience's good will. Their dancing is rudely interrupted when Lorenzo sees them and tries to run off Basilio because more to Lorenzo's ambitious taste is Don Gamache, the foppish local nobleman. As papa's favorite, Gamache is of course a total doofus -- big bozo hair, poofy knee breeches, exaggerated courtier's walk ... yup, every girl's dreamboat. Kitri shows how farcical Gamache is when, in mock fighting she bests this degraded specimen of the noblesse d'epee with her fan, pushes him over, and runs away. But just as Gamache is about to complain to Lorenzo, the townspeople interrupt him with their dance. In other words, it is comical for the introductory dance to be interrupted by narrative sequences which in its turn is interrupted by more dance.

McKenzie, who has a penchant for tucking bits of expository mime in his 19th century ballets (think of the prologues to the McKenzie "Swan Lake" and "Nutcracker"), keeps the narrative line running throughout Act I's flower girls' dance, Espada and Mercedes' dance, and the dance of the toreadors. Its great fun to see Carlos Molina's Gamache and Isaac Stappas' Lorenzo veritable side show-- drinking, toasting, eating, spitting, etc., but, that sense of comic tension seems underdeveloped.

Of course I'm not suggesting that the McKenzie production doesn't have dance. Nice juicy virtuoso roles abound and never more so than in Saturday's matinee which made an unusual departure from normal casting practices. Each act had a different Kitri and Basilio. Paloma Herrera and Jose Manuel Carreño were Act I's principals; Irina Dvorovenko and Maxim Belotserkovsky for Act II; and Gillian Murphy and Marcelo Gomes for Act III "Kitri's Wedding." Carreño, Belotserkovsky, and Gomes -- three different kinds of virtuosity -- three different kinds of partnering. With Herrera, Dvorovenko, and Murphy we had an unparalleled opportunity to closely study the nuances possible in hard-bitten ballerina glamour. After the show I almost felt obligated to go across the street to South Coast Plaza and buy Movado watches and Mirella dancewear.

On Friday evening, Angel Corella was his usual charismatic self and his emphasis on sheer virtuosity did not look out of place. Though she didn't seem to have the glamour which the role of Kitri needs, Xiomara Reyes made a good case for a kinder, more approachable Kitri. Maybe she just seems so young that its hard to see the maneater Kitri usually is. That is, except perhaps in the introductory pas de deux. When Basilio tries to kiss Kitri, she puts him down with a quick flick of her Spanish fan, taking a cue from the recent "Terminator" movie: "Talk to the fan…"

This production didn't forget its Petipa finishes. A Petipa ballet teems with prop dances and Spanish fans abounded. The girls were quite expert with their fans. Murphy even fanned herself during her fouettes in the grand pas de deux. However, in Mercedes' arrow dance, I didn't care for what looked more like a game of lawn darts than a character dance.

A Petipa ballet also demands large ensemble choreography for the girls of the corps -- in this case the Act II "Dream" scene. I thought the demi-soloist variations could have been more in unison but otherwise the "Dream" looked very pretty. Boring but pretty. On Friday, Stella Abrera as Queen of the Dryads was pure sugar. Renata Pavam as Amour was also a charmer. At the matinee, Anne Milewski as Amour (curiously, a role en travestie) and Carmen Corella as Queen of the Dryads were very watchable. As Kitri's friends, Maria Riccetto and Erica Cornejo, looked good on Friday and Michele Wiles and Stella Abrera were persuasive in this somewhat expanded roles -- they schmoozed, flirted, and danced more than in other productions. They even had solo variations inserted into the Act III big finale pas de deux.

The men's dancing was not neglected. You practically couldn't take your eyes from Gennadi Saveliev's shiny Espada in both performances. The Act I toreador's dance could have been more uniform but they looked hot and sultry as if they were doing tango and not ballet. The Act II gypsies' dance also looked steamy, though I'm still puzzled as to why designer Santo Loquasto put grown, muscular men in what looked like shortened red t-shirts and wife-beaters, which showed their midriffs Britney and Shakira-style. On Saturday, Gypsy Guy, Carlos Lopez was "on," (he'll be another Espada, no doubt). And Gypsy Girl, Sarawanee Tanatanit, I'd like to see again.

I must admit that I've never been that glad to see "Don Quixote." Though it isn't my least favorite full evening ballet -- "Romeo and Juliet" wins that special place -- neither does it seem so fatally flawed as to actually become interesting -- like the Lubovitch "Othello" -- or comedic -- like the "Le Corsaire" ABT toured to southern California twice in recent years. "Don Quixote," I guess, just tries to be everything to everybody.

Edited by Mary Ellen Hunt.

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