American Ballet Theatre
Metropolitan Opera House
New York, NY
May 23, 2011
by Leigh Witchel
copyright © 2011 by Leigh Witchel
The last thing you’d expect to remember about “Don Quixote” is the Act II vision scene. But Alina Cojocaru isn’t a typical virtuoso, and the ballet blanc is her métier.
One of Cojocaru’s greatest roles is Aurora, and she imported it into “Don Quixote,” linking the two heroines’ vision scenes. The obligatory ballet blanc in American Ballet Theatre’s version of “Don Quixote” is typically for virtuoso ballerinas a bridge between the bravura numbers of Acts 1 and 3. But Cojocaru infused the vision with Aurora’s touchstones – as she hovered suspended in attitude, you saw the similar pose from the Rose Adagio.
Unsurpringly, Cojocaru isn’t a typical Kitri. She’s not a hell-raiser. She treated the Don with respect and without ridicule. She was more hurt than incensed when Basilio flirted with her friends. During his comic suicide attempt in Act 2, when he stole a kiss as he faked his death, she decided the wine she brought him would be better off drunk by her. She’s witty, sometimes silly and often mischievous, but sweetly moral. If her characterization falls into any lineage, it would be comic heroines such as Elizabeth Bennet rather than Swanilda.
It probably couldn’t be any other way. Cojocaru doesn’t have the sheer force of a Kitri exemplar like Natalia Osipova. She shaded it to emphasize her strengths. In her Act 1 variation where she kicked her legs up in temps de flèches, the step was about the height of the extension, rather than height of the jump.
Still, Kitri is a show piece, and Cojocaru pulled out the stops in Act 3, but using her lightness for acrobatics rather than power. When Jose Manuel Carreño pressed her overhead, she let go completely, and he tossed her an extra revolution in another trick. Her solo in the grand pas was different, eschewing the standard pas de chevals, and neither harder nor simpler, but with turns and other steps that look better on her. And by the final jétés, she was soaring.
Cojocaru and Carreño were not a sympathetic partnership. He seemed to have trouble intuiting when she was done turning, assisting her too early or too late. He is a human forklift, though, and she is light. He pressed her overhead and held her with one hand; she extended her leg up beyond 180 degrees partially for stability and partially because they could.
The production, staged in ’95 by Kevin MacKenzie and Susan Jones, is based on the standard Petipa-Gorsky version. If it isn’t the Russo-Spanish monument to joyous vulgarity that the Bolshoi does better than anyone, it’s respectable. It could use freshening around the edges, though, particularly in supporting roles. The male corps was ragged in their toreador dances. Gennadi Saveliev went in for Sascha Radetsky as their leader Espada; it was a ragged performance that looked like he learned he was dancing a half-hour before curtain. Maria Riccetto, who doubled as Mercedes and Queen of the Dryads, had trouble with her Italian fouettes. Amour is a sugary role, and Yuriko Kajiya was saccharine.
There were brighter spots. Julio Bragado-Young played the also-ran suitor Gamache as dryly funny instead of a functionary from The Ministry of Silly Walks. He and Isaac Stappas as Kitri’s father Lorenzo reconciled easily after Basilio’s ruse. It fit with Cojocaru’s lighter reading that avoided farce in favor of wit and gentility.
copyright © 2011 by Leigh Witchel
Photo by Gene Schiavone, Alina Cojocaru in “Don Quixote.”