American Ballet Theatre
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
April 17, 2014
by Ashley McKean
copyright ©2014 by Ashley McKean
American Ballet Theatre’s “Don Quixote” is like a good summer blockbuster film—high in drama, low in complexity, but entertaining right from the start. Just minutes after the scrim goes up in Act I, Kitri bursts onto the stage, a ball of energy clad in bright orange ruffles reminiscent of flamenco tresses. Based loosely on two distinct episodes from Cervantes’ famous novel, “Don Quixote de la Mancha”, ABT’s production, staged after choreography by Marius Petipa and Alexander Gorsky, emphasizes dancing and personality more than narrative or storytellling. Act I, set in a Spanish village, serves as a vehicle to introduce the characters, each of whom emerges from the wings as if to say “here I am, see me dance!” At times it seems like a competition amongst friends to see who can impress the most with multiple turns and high-flying jumps. But when the dancers engaged in the lively romp include Gillian Murphy and Marcelo Gomes (as the innkeeper’s daughter, Kitri, and her forbidden suitor, Basilio), and Sascha Radetsky and Stella Abrera (as their friends, Espada and Mercedes), one is easily swept away by the brilliance of the dance. Minkus’s melodic and danceable score, even if played a bit sloppily on Thursday, adds to the appeal.
The pas de deux as the end of Act I seemed like a walk in the park for Gomes and Murphy, with a couple of high flying one-handed lifts carried off with such ease that Murphy playfully shook her tambourine while supported overhead (which would have been frightening had Gomes not looked so secure). But the couple was at their true best in the famous wedding pas de deux in Act III. Packed full of difficult technical elements—balances, turns, jumps, and lifts—this dance, if not performed artfully, can look like nothing more than a collection of tricks. Murphy and Gomes made it look like a fluid conversation, albeit one with many dazzling moments. The coda displayed the usual fireworks with some not so usual embellishments (except when Murphy is dancing), such as multiple turns and complicated arm positions that added excitement to the famous fouette sequence.
Radetsky’s and Abrera’s Espada and Mercedes turned up the heat a few notches with a performance that sizzled with personality. Husband and wife in real life, the couple has a natural connection and trust onstage. Although shorter in stature than Gomes, Radetsky danced the role of the lead toreador with commanding expansiveness and handled his cape with panache. Abrera was a technically secure and seductive street dancer; her Mercedes made me wish I could see her try her hand at Kitri. Other standouts were Misty Copeland and the young Skylar Brandt (replacing Luciana Paris) as the Flower Girls at Kitri’s wedding. These two had a lot of dancing to do, including difficult solos during the wedding pas de deux, seemingly designed to give the principal couple a chance to breathe. Brandt, in particular, danced with delightful joy and a precocious technique. Hers seems to be an especially bright future.
The hidden gem of this production is Don Quixote’s dream, sandwiched between the flashiness of Act I and the fireworks of Act III. Set under the moonlight alongside an enchanted windmill, this scene in Act II brings a refreshing change of pace that reveals the purity and elegance of Petipa’s choreography. Sarah Lane made the greatest impression as the spritely and spirited Amour, creating an atmosphere of romantic magic that carried the entire scene. Physically tiny, Lane covered space with a fleetness and a quicksilver speed suggestive of a Balanchine dancer. As Queen of the Dryads, Abrera’s unaffected, classical technique was imbued with graciousness and warmth that radiated from within. Her lyrical solo required a remarkable amount of control (the music seemed to be conducted a bit too slowly at first) and ended with a flawlessly executed series of Italian fouettes. Murphy’s solo was technically perfect, but her punctuated balances almost seemed out of place amongst the understated serenity of this scene. A corps of twenty-five women in sparkling silver tutus rounded out the dancing with elegant bourrées and pristine formations, making me wish we didn’t have to awaken from this dream.
copyright ©2014 by Ashley McKean