Triumph of True Love
Other Russian chestnuts in the ballet repertory have a different sensibility. Swan Lake dwells in the realm of watery emotion, while La Bayadére inhabits an ethereal dream state. Don Quixote, on the other hand, evokes the fire and zest of Spain and retains a light-hearted comedy at its core. Some of the great names of Russian ballet advanced their careers by lighting up the stage in Don Quixote— stars like Rudolph Nureyev, Natalia Makarova, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Maya Plisetskaya, Anna Pavlova, Vladimir Vasiliev and Ekaterina Maximova, to name a few.
Despite the ballet's name, Don Quixote doesn't focus exclusively on the wanderings of the philosophical knight of the epic Cervantes novel. Instead, the hero and heroine, Kitri and Basilio, are common peasants with a flair for dancing, comedy and romance. The most famous segment of the ballet—one that is often excerpted as a showpiece in itself—is the wedding pas de deux, a genuine showstopper with its fiery technical demands. But the full-length ballet gleefully fleshes out the antics of the two lovers who are determined to outwit anyone's plans to thwart their marriage.
The plot centers on Basilio, a barber and Kitri, an innkeeper's daughter. Kitri's father wants her to marry Gamache, a wealthy, foppish nobleman. The duo runs away to a gypsy encampment where they encounter the undaunted Don Quixote, who mistakes Kitri for Dulcinea, his ephemeral dream ideal. When Gamache pursues Kitri, Don Quixote comes to his senses and points the gullible man in the wrong direction. When Kitri and Basil hide out at a tavern, her father and Gamache catch up with them. Basilio pretends to stab himself in distress, while Kitri, accessory to the farce, begs her father to unite them before he "dies." In the end, the two are happily married, while Don Quixote continues to pursue his impossible dream.
Essentially, Don Quixote is a big, colorful fiesta—one filled with wondrous dancing. The ballet is the perfect example of the Russian fascination with Spanish dancing and music and filters classical ballet technique through the spectrum of traditional Spanish folk dances.
Don Quixote was originally choreographed for a production by the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow and premiered in 1869. Marius Petipa, the choreographic genius of Russian ballet (famous for his work on Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty and other masterworks), created the first production, which has provided a template for subsequent revivals. The music by Leon Minkus serves as a thoroughly joyful romp and provides the perfect foundation for the virtuosic dancing.
One always expects a great spectacle from the Bolshoi Ballet and Don Quixote delivers on all counts. The Russian ballet is a brilliant spectacle replete with red swirling ruffled skirts, toreadors with spiraling capes, and flamenco-like twists with castanets and fans. The second act includes a scene devoted to Don Quixote's delirium with the apparition of Dulcinea surrounded by a complete corps de ballet of shimmering dryads. Don Quixote may wander around the landscape looking for his ideal. But with the Bolshoi's version of Don Quixote, there is no need to wander far. Ballet reaches—and achieves—its ideal form in this resplendent ballet.
Joseph Carman writes about the arts and is the author of Round About the Ballet.
Dates: February 24–28, 2010
Tickets: $21 and up
For tickets and information, visit ocpac.org or call 714.556.2787.
Group sales: 714.755.0236
The Center Applauds:
Audrey Steele Burnand Endowed Fund for International Dance
Jane and Jim Driscoll
Segerstrom Foundation Endowment for Great Performances
With special underwriting from:
Bruno and Sharon Lebon
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