American Ballet Theatre
by Colleen Boresta
May 29, 2010 matinee -- Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center, New York
The ballet, “Don Quixote,” is not really about the enigmatic knight who is always fighting windmills. The Don himself is only a secondary character in the ballet. It’s actually about a spirited young Spanish girl, Kitri, who is in love with Basilio, a poor barber. The point of “Don Quixote,” however, is not its story. Don Q was choreographed by Marius Petipa, a 19th century Frenchman living in St. Petersburg, Russia. Petipa’s main goals for the ballet are spectacular dancing, lively music, and a rousing good time for the entire audience. Don Q is a delightful combination of slapstick comedy and pyrotechnical dancing. American Ballet Theatre’s production of Don Q, staged by Kevin McKenzie and Susan Jones, shows off Petipa’s great comedy to its best advantage.
As already mentioned, Don Q is the story of Kitri, a young Spanish girl living in Seville. In Act I, Kitri is in love with Basilio, a poor barber, but her father, Lorenzo, wants her to marry the foolish but wealthy Gamache. At the same time, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza arrive in Seville. The Don is in search of his elusive Dulcinea.
In Act II, Kitri and Basilio run away so that Kitri will not have to marry Gamache. They hide at a Gypsy camp. There, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza find the young couple. The Don, ever the romantic, is trying to bring Kitri and Basilio together. At the Gypsy camp the Don attacks a windmill, believing it to be a giant threatening Dulcinea’s safety. During the “attack,” the Don falls and is rescued by Basilio and the Gypsy King. Quixote then falls asleep, dreaming of enchanted maidens and Kitri as his Dulcinea.
Lorenzo and Gamache arrive at the Gypsy camp looking for Kitri and Basilio. The young couple then head back to Seville where Kitri’s father and Gamache eventually catch up to them. Lorenzo tells his daughter she must marry Gamache, so Basilio commits “suicide.” Upon learning of the farce, the whole town implores Lorenzo to let Kitri marry the “corpse.” Lorenzo reluctantly agrees, and Basilio springs back to life.
In Act III Kitri and Basilio get married. All of Seville celebrates their bliss.
I saw my first Don Q in June of 1981. Kitri was danced by Gelsey Kirkland and Basilio was danced by Mikhail Baryshnikov. It was an unbelievably exciting ballet, forever etched upon my mind’s eye. That performance, however, set a very high standard for Don Qs, one I was sure would never be reached. Fortunately I have seen some wonderful Kitris and Basilios since 1981,
including Susan Jaffe, Nina Ananiashvili, Paloma Herrera, Gillian Murphy and Xiomara Reyes as Kitri and Julio Bocca, Angel Corella, Jose Manuel Carreno, Carlos Acosta and Herman Cornejo as Basilio. That being said, the May 29th matinee performance of Don Q, my second time seeing Reyes and Cornejo in the main roles, is definitely the best Don Q I’ve ever seen. It is certainly up there with the top three ballets I’ve seen in my lifetime (I’ve attended the ballet regularly since 1980).
Herman Cornejo is perfect as Basilio. His incredibly high leaps where he hangs suspended in the air, his spins, the multiple double air turns – all are stupendous. His comic timing is also spot on. Cornejo is especially funny when he waggles his eyebrows just before his “suicide”, making sure to let the audience in on the joke. Cornejo’s partnering skills have improved in the past few years. His one handed lifts in Act I looked effortless. The second lift he held for a full ten seconds.
As Kitri, Xiomara Reyes is a real spitfire. Her footwork is amazingly fleet and precise. She can whirl across the stage at an incredibly dizzyingly pace. Her leaps with the kick to the back of the head are astounding. Reyes’ fouettes in the Act III pas de deux (the famous grand pas) are very exciting. They are amazingly fast and very secure. And every time Reyes does a double, she opens and closes her fan over her head. I have only one small quibble about Reyes’ dancing. In the Act III grand pas she holds her balances for a very short time. I remember seeing Paloma Herrera dance Kitri in 2004. Her balances went on for so long that it was as though time stood still.
One of the great things about this performance is how in sync Reyes and Cornejo are. Their styles of dancing, their levels of energy, the way they approach their roles – it all meshed. The chemistry between Reyes and Cornejo is palpable. Theirs seems to be the beginnings of a great partnership.
As Espada, the matador, Gennadi Saveliev’s dancing is good, but his performance lacks the needed Spanish flair. Kristi Boone shines in the dual role of Mercedes in the Seville scenes, and the Queen of the Dryads in the vision scene. Boone’s Mercedes is all fiery temperament, but her Queen of the Dryads is the epitome of classical elegance.
Julio Bragado-Young is very funny as Gamache, a role which requires the ability to take a lot of pratfalls. Anne Milewski is always good as Amour in the vision scene. I’ve seen her dance the part many times. She has a great light leap and quicksilver footwork.
Carlos Lopez is an amazingly high-flying Gypsy King who held his own in his dance with Cornejo’s Basilio. Lopez seems to be going from strength to strength this season. I am looking forward to seeing his next performance.
All in all, it was an exhilarating afternoon at the ballet. I hope ABT keeps this joyous Don Quixote in their repertoire for a long time to come.