February 16, 2008
by Helene Kaplan
copyright 2008 by Helene Kaplan
With its familiar comic plot and passages of technical virtuosity, it's easy to forget that at the center of "Don Quixote" are relationships and transformations. Ballet Arizona's new production of the old ballet (by Olga Evreinoff), featured three Kitris and two Basilios. Paola Hartley and Astrit Zejnati danced the leading roles in the performance I saw, and showed that the sum can be greater than the parts, brilliant as those parts are.
Hartley and Zejnati are as good as anyone technically; they dance as if there is nothing they cannot do, but they never feel the need to show everything at all times. Develope in second, arms raised in high fifth? Rock solid, the second as solid as the first, with not a hint of a "ta-da" wink to the audience: these were for Basilio. Turning jumps with splits? Effortless; these were for Kitri. What Hartley and Zejnati share is an approach to virtuosity that accounts for style, taste, and a respect for the music. Instead of ending a phrase by forcing an extra rotation or an overly held balance, each might add a subtle, teasing syncopation and variation on phrasing. They project a deep simpatico, a palpable sense of comfort, underlying affection, and connection, showing that Kitri and Basilio had known each other since they were children. They danced the opening adagio of the grand pas de deux, despite the tricks, like a love song.
For "Don Quixote" to be more than a checklist of greatest hits, it needs a strong context. So often acts of narrative ballets register as a series of set pieces, however mixed in tone: character A's variation, then a dance for the friends, then a group dance, next a national variation, and so on, but there's no "there" there. Not so in Ballet Arizona's production. In the Act I, Scene 2 in the Barcelona plaza, the sequence of dances and mime were almost symphonic, blending from piece to piece, with dramatic shifts in tone, emphasis, and contrast. Through this the story of the lovers interlaced its way through the community, a place that all of the dancers had established, as the scene built and built toward a climax both in story and dance terms. That the sense of place and character was so vivid was remarkable since the set by Alun Jones, which spanned the width of the stage, was flat across and thus limited placement to a rather shallow horseshoe.
As in last fall's "Giselle," there was a small scene in the middle of the act which was key in the development of the ballet and which showed that the ballet is more than a comic romp, and once again, it was performed with clarity, even though its significance wasn't immediately clear. There is a small group dance, in which Don Quixote partners Kitri, with Basilio taking umbrage and flirting with her friends. While on the surface, this is yet another example of the ways in which Kitri and Basilio try to incite each other's jealousy, underneath, for Hartley's Kitri, there was a pull towards this odd old man's gallantry, so unlike Basilio's macho young rivals. Basilio was right to be jealous, because Hartley showed that Don Quixote touched something in her. Just a hint of a chord was struck, something that would bear fruit in the tender and intimate pas de deux with the shawl during the lovers' escape in Act II, and would be glorified in the Dream sequence.
This is a production that belied the disclaimer that the character of Don Quixote is a peripheral plot device. While the travails of Kitri and Basilio are central, and Don Quixote's actions help Kitri and Basilio to thwart her father's plans for an arranged marriage to a rich fop, Don Quixote's influence is emotional as well, and none more so than in his Dream, where Hartley's Dulcinea was a portrayal of Kitri's best self, not just an abstract ideal. She showed this through her arms, which luxuriated in the music.
The Don was portrayed by Daniel Baudendistel, very tall and Richard Kiley-looking. He established the character in the opening scene, and made it very clear how willful and impossible he could be, enough so that there was empathy for Gamache who, having been humiliated by the Don, gets his by pretending to be a vision of the bride Dulcinea. Gamache was a wonderful role for the recently retired Nikolai Moroz (now teaching in Florida). Sergei Perkovskii was hysterical as Sancho Panza, in mime and dance terms.
As the lead gypsy man, Daniel Marshalsay stole the gypsy act with his
virile presence and full-bodied dancing, as he did among the village
male quintet in Act I. Tzu-Chia Huang and Michelle Mahowal danced like
twins as the lead bridesmaids who dance immediately after the adagio in
the Pas de Deux; they matched in line, timing, and interpretation. Over the past few years, it's common to see Imayoshi, Huang, and
Mahowald, in soloist and demi-soloist roles, but in this production,
there were three younger members of the company who were given lead or
prominent feature roles.
Ian Poulis danced Espada and the Act III fandango. (Russell
Clarke was cast in the matinee performances.) Poulis is a tall,
long-legged dancer, whose classical dancing is characterized by its
softness -- ironically the defining quality of the foremost regional
dance in Catalunya, the sardana -- and particularly in the first Act,
where, in contrast to the fandango that has emphatic and defined
toreador gestures, the "character" is mainly in the feet, the quick
movements that are generally ideal for a shorter dancer. Instead of
trying to change the underlying quality by forcing, he used his height
and stature to his advantage through his bearing, by lifting his head
and neck and slowly focusing on his partner with a gaze that burned
through her, and indicating that any man who got between them was going
to lose blood on the spot. The highlight of Espada's role is an entire solo in which he whips his
cape above and behind and over and around himself, and with it,
masterfully, Poulis tore down the house.
In the Dream Sequence, Knako Imayoshi danced the Queen of the Dryads, giving a soft, sweeping performance, Kitri/Dulcinea, and a corps of Dryads with appearances of cupids from the school, but the central figure, both in stage picture and temperament is Cupid, in a short tunic. This role was danced by Karen Wojtowicz with a perfect combination of precision, lightness, and charm. Where has she been hiding? She was a revelation.
revised: March 4, 2008