On the rain-soaked evening of May 16th 2014, ABT delivered a mood-boosting performance of “Don Quixote” for a full house of grateful dancegoers at the Koch Theater in Lincoln Center. Dazzling Gallic-flavored dancing and full-throttle comedy to the music of Minkus helped to push dire flash flood warnings out of the minds of many in the audience. I heard plenty of comments during intermissions by people who said that driving in from the suburbs or sloshing through sidewalk puddles was more than worth the trouble. I agreed!
Yet before I go on with what will be a largely laudatory review, I have to get a somewhat grumpy opinion off my mind. This has nothing to do with the current Don Q staging by Kevin McKenzie and Susan Jones dating from 1995. Rather, my complaint is about the original libretto devised way back in 1740 for a production by the Austrian choreographer Franz Hilverding, which has continued to inform most of the productions that followed including the seminal work by Petipa in 1869. The ballet’s story about the romance between Kitri and Basilio is based on two of the least compelling chapters in the seventeenth century novel by Miguel de Cervantes, which is a complex exploration of delusion and defeat that has been heralded as the birth of modern literature.
The musical “Man of la Mancha” with a book by Dale Wasserman and lyrics by Joe Darion does a much more admirable job of translating for the stage Cervantes’ message of desire and dashed hopes. Witness these stirring lyrics: “To dream the impossible dream/To fight the unbeatable foe/To bear with unbearable sorrow/And to run where the brave dare not go.” The denouement of the musical, true to what Cervantes wrote, is the death of Don Quixote as he realizes he is actually Alonso Quixano. Ironically, sanity turns out to be his nemesis.
Even so, perhaps Hilverding and Petipa knew what they were doing when they opted for a crowd-pleasing romp rather than a tragic tale. The great Mr. B. himself once choreographed a dark version of Don Q. to lugubrious music by Nicolas Nabokov. Balanchine danced the title role himself and the young Suzanne Farrell was his Dulcinea. Yet the ballet fairly quickly dropped out of the NYCB repertoire because of a lack of interest.
That said, I’ll get back to heaping praise on the ABT version of Don Q that I was privileged to witness. The incomparable Paloma Herrera, in the role of Kitri that she created at the premiere of the Mackenzie/Jones production in 1995, delivered her trademark sparkle and breathtaking balances. Ivan Vasiliev, a Russian who has only been with ABT since 2012, was her attentive partner. He proved to be nothing less than explosive in his solo variations. The two of them had remarkable chemistry so that their nuanced emotional interactions and heart-stopping lifts were performed flawlessly.
Ah, and then there was the unrivaled precision of the ABT corps. Famously perfect in ballets such as “La Bayadère” and “Swan Lake”, the ladies are just as clean in the more boisterous choreography for Don Q. They are also fine actresses who know how to do stage business without detracting from the main action.
Special mention to the long-limbed and lovely Veronika Part as Mercedes. However, James Whiteside as her Matador was less exciting than what I’ve come to expect from ABT men. Finally, applause to Sarah Lane for an engaging and technically proficient performance as Amour, and to up-and-coming corps girls Skylar Brandt and Christine Shevchenko as the utterly charming Flower Girls.
The final Don Q of ABT’s 2014 spring season will be on the evening of May 19th. If can catch it, please do. Otherwise, plan to go to other spring 2014 offerings including “Gaité Parisiennne” and “La Bayadère”. “America’s National Ballet Company”, as ABT has branded itself, is a joy to see!
This review originally appeared on BroadwayWorld.com.