American Ballet Theatre
by Colleen Boresta
May 25, 2013 -- Metropolitan Opera House, New York, NY
There was excitement in the air when I arrived at the Metropolitan Opera House for the May 25th evening performance of the ballet ‘Don Quixote’. Russian superstars Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev were dancing the leading roles and it was definitely standing room only. ‘Don Quixote’ is not really about the befuddled knight who is always fighting with windmills. Quixote is only a secondary character in the ballet. ‘Don Quixote’ is really about a lively young Spanish girl who is in love with Basilio, an impoverished barber. The story is rather silly, but it’s not the point of the piece. ‘Don Q’ was choreographed by Marius Petipa, a Frenchman living in St. Petersburg, Russia in the 19th century. Petipa’s main goals for this ballet were phenomenal dancing, lively music and a good time for the entire audience. ‘Don Q’ is a charming blend 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 famous farce to its best advantage.
As already mentioned, ‘Don Quixote’ is the story of Kitri, a girl living in Seville, Spain. In Act I Kitri wants to marry the poor barber, Basilio, but her father wants her to wed the foppishly foolish but very 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 out in a Gypsy camp where they are found by Quixote and Sancho Panza. In the spirit of true love, the Don wants to help Kitri and Basilio stay 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. Quixoe falls asleep, dreaming of enchanted maidens and Kitri. His dream comes to life on the stage.
Lorenzo and Gamache arrive at the Gypsy camp looking for Kitri and Basilio. The young couple then head back to Seville, where Gamache and Kitri’s father eventually catch up with them. Lorenzo tells Kitri that she has no choice but to marry Gamache. Upon hearing this Basilio commits “suicide”. The whole town (except for Lorenzo and Gamache) are in on the joke and beg Lorenzo to let his daughter marry the “corpse”. Lorenzo reluctantly agrees and Basilio springs back to life.
In Act III Kitri and Basilio finally get married. All Seville celebrates their happiness.
I saw my first ‘Don Q’ in June of 1981. It starred ABT’s Gelsey Kirkland and Mikhail Barysnikov. It was a thrilling ballet, forever etched upon my mind’s eye. That performance set a very high standard for ‘Don Qs’. Since that time I have seen several incredible presentations of ABT’s ‘Don Quixote’. The Kitris I’ve seen have included Nina Aniashvilli, Paloma Herrera, Gillian Murphy, Xiomara Reyes and Polina Semionova. I’ve also seen fantastic Basilios including Julio Bocca, Angel Corella, Carlos Acosta, Jose Manuel Carreno and Herman Cornejo. As wonderful as all those Kitris and Basilios were, they pale in comparison to the performances of Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev on Saturday night. New York Times’ chief dance critic, Alastair Macaulay, put it best when he wrote in his review of the May 25th evening performance of ‘Don Quixote’ that “Jumps, turns, balances, splits – these two take them higher, faster, longer.”
Osipova has mind-boggling jumps where she seems to hang in the air longer than is humanly possible. Her turns are performed at whatever is faster than the speed of light. During the coda of the Act III pas de deux her fouettes are mainly doubles, whipped off at an incredibly fast pace. During the same pas de deux she holds her balances for the longest period of time I have ever seen.
As Basilio, Ivan Vasiliev is technically the most accomplished male dancer I have ever experienced. I don’t even know what to call most of the movements he performs. His jumps are incredibly high, his air tours all seem to be multiples and he often executes 540 degree turns. He is also an extremely secure partner. In Act I as he lifts Osipova over his head with one hand he raises his left leg a bit. Watching Osipova and Vasiliev perform the roles of Kitri and Basilio in ‘Don Quixote’ is like watching a high wire act without a net. The audience knows, however, that they can not possibly fall. ‘Don Q’ is a ballet where such virtuoso technique is essential to the success of the production.
Osipova and Vasiliev are also masters of comic timing. Their chemistry is absolutely combustible. They are both so adorable that you want to take them home with you.
Other performers in the May 25th evening performance of ‘Don Q’ stand out as well. Alexandre Hammoudi is very impressive as the matador Espada. Misty Copeland’s Queen of the Dryads has some unfortunate problems with her Italian fouettes. Her jumps at the end of the dream sequence are very strong, but pale when compared to Osipova’s jumps. Yuriko Kajiya is a perfect Amour. The lyrical delicacy of her movements, her quicksilver footwork and lovely light leaps – all are quite wonderful.
Roman Zhurbin as Don Quixote and Roddy Dobble as Kitri’s father, Lorenzo, again show what superb actors they are. Alexei Agoudine is very funny as the foppish Gamache. He certainly knows how to take a pratfall.
The May 25th evening performance of ‘Don Quixote’ is the best ballet I have ever seen in my 30 plus years of attending shows at Lincoln Center. I only hope I am fortunate enough to see Osipova and Vasiliev perform in many more ballets.
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