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Bolshoi Ballet

'Don Quixote'

Falling into grace

by Thea Nerissa Barnes

July 20, 2004 -- The Royal Opera House, London

"Don Quixote", loosely based Cervantes’ love story of Quiteria (Kitri) and Basilio has had some revisions since Marius Petipa was first directed to make a ballet “in the Spanish manner” for the Moscow Bolshoi Theatre in 1869 (according to Clement Crispe). It is said that Alexander Gorsky then stretched the dramatic effects and naturalistic portrayals and of course there is the music of Ludwig Minkus. With these notable stalwarts of classical ballet "Don Quixote" offers a romantic Spain with complex technical demands that couples exuberant energy with rambunctious characterisations. Alexei Fadeyechev is noted for the revival of this work seen in Covent Garden 20 July 2004, which does its best to continue the efforts of its predecessors. I would imagine that most classical ballet neophytes dream of performing in "Don Quixote" but what I witnessed on Tuesday 20 July 2004 had a profound message that Petipa may not have intended.

There are many readings of Cervantes’ book but Dulcinea is the single most profound notion for me. This love for a woman alive or imaginary is not simply the telling of a search for a woman that a man has fallen in love with. Having inspiration and strength of will to succeed in the name of love is a wonderfully romantic act, and perhaps Cervantes loathed this idea enough to mock it. It is the journey with its incessant questing that seems most important in Cervantes' book and in the ballet. Dulcinea seems more a notion of perseverance, the strength to believe in one’s convictions, one’s promise to one's self, one’s dreams and aspirations, the search for a love, a muse or salvation. All these things can be read into this apparition that fuels Don Quixote’s journeys. While Cervantes takes a poke at courtly love and the epic hero, Petipa’s work focuses on young love and the needs and escapades of an ageing knight to provide a vehicle for a three act ballet.

Dulcinea has only a cameo appearance in this presentation of all that ballet can offer. It is the opportunity for a company to exhibit its phenomenal technical prowess, improvisation, and character development. There is also quite a bit of play, goofing, rouge swirling raffled skirts, toreadors with knives and capes, flamenco-like spirals in the back and arms with castanets and fans, even a drop made like a Spanish shawl, windmills and puppet show that segues into pastel tutus and a cupid. The gypsy camp had the only hint of tragedy with a solo danced by Yulianna Malkhasyants. This solo had that sense of Audalucian “blues”; full of anguish, defiance, and passion.

In scene 3 of Act 2, Don Quixote’s delirium conjures giants, monsters and finally the apparition of Dulcinea surrounded by dryads and fairies. Well, here, the epic hero of ballet is enthralled by a gorgeous landscape of shimmering tutus that was so effervescent that the audience gasped. The Don is so enthralled, he wanders around this landscape encircled by the corps de ballet. Reaching this way then another for Dulcinea amongst the groupings and soloists, Don Quixote never catches her and awakens somewhat dazed from what he has been through both imaginary and lived. This angelic rendering is the life lesson the ballet has to offer. Don Quixote does not get Dulcinea or does he?

One could imagine Dulcinea as metaphorically representing the goal of striving for perfection. Svetlana Zakharova, the practically flawless Principal dancer who portrayed Kitri and Dulcinea, had a bit of a “Dulcinea” to strive for herself in Tuesday night’s performance. Early in Act 1 she fell -- flat on her face , dead centre in the middle of one of her many solos. Anyone would say it happens and you simply get up and keep going. Any dancer pursuing the epitome of perfection in whatever aesthetic they choose will stumble and fall on that road to grace. Consider yourself at a loss if you haven’t done it at least once in your career. The “performance” then becomes about how you continue. Picking yourself up, shaken but not deadened, making the turns more precise, calculating leaps and jumps, each movement containing that extra bit of soul that distinguishes character, embraces beauty, embodies grace.

Zakharova spent the rest of the evening erasing that fall, which was literally a fall from grace, but by Act 3 with her legs and arms charged with seemingly invincible energy and tenacity I was convinced of the underlying notion of Dulcinea. Zakharova’s foutte turns were really quite a marvel and the precision throughout both technically and as a character were fantastic. I detected a bit of youth wilfulness that was more Zakharova than Kitri, but you can allow this indulgence in an artist with a brilliant career before and in front of her. It is part of what made the audience forget the fall and give a well-deserved and loud applause. I applauded Zakharova’s personification of my notion of “Dulcinea”.

Edited by Jeff.

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