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American Ballet Theatre - 'Don Quixote'

Vishneva from 0 to 180

by Jerry Hochman

May 26, 2005 -- Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center, New York

Eventually, when American Ballet Theatre takes stock of its history of great performances, Diana Vishneva’s portrayal of Kitri in “Don Quixote” will surely rank among the best. Having been privileged to see many of these great Kitris, including Gelsey Kirkland (who created the role in the initial ABT production) and Cynthia Harvey (whose performance with Mikhail Baryshnikov is memorialized on DVD), I feel fortunate to have been able to see yet another one. Vishneva is a Russian revelation.

But before I attempt to wax eloquent over a glittering performance, there’s the production. Although it does little good to mourn the loss of productions that the audience is no longer able to see, the current staging by Kevin McKenzie and Susan Jones based on the original Petipa as amended by Alexander Gorsky, doesn’t hold a candle to Baryshnikov’s original vision. The Baryshnikov production was non-stop action; here the production is much slower-paced. Perhaps the earlier production was a bit too busy and too injury-provoking (I recall some scenes looking like choreographed chaos), but it never stopped delivering glorious images and even more glorious dancing from one second to the next.

In this production, the seams show and the prologue is disappointingly banal.  The gypsy scene choreography is much less exciting to watch; the ending image following Kitri’s wedding seems like a virtual repeat of the opening scene rather than the naturally joyous denouement in Baryshnikov’s version, and so on. Even the roles seem to be less meaty, except for Kitri, Basilio, and Espada. And although this staging retains a clearly communicated sense of fun, it is missing the earlier version’s delightful sense of humor. It is just not as endearing or intelligent a staging. But if you’ve never seen the original Baryshnikov production (or even as it appeared to get modified and stripped down a bit in succeeding seasons), the current staging is more than adequate. It certainly is an improvement over the Vasilev production that preceded it.

Vishneva was Kitri. I mean, she was Kitri. Both in the quality of her dancing and the quality of her acting, she was extraordinary. She looked every bit the spitfire and tease. Kitri’s a party girl; perhaps the opposite of the somewhat introverted and easily bruised Giselle (a role Vishneva will dance with ABT later this season). But before you think of a Spanish and brunette Paris Hilton who can dance, she’s not superficial.  Vishneva has a keen intelligence and wit that she doesn’t mind showing, and she’s loyal to Basilio, the poor barber. Vishneva was all these things and more. And her dancing was merely phenomenal; she moved (and glowed) as if powered by lightning. Her legs go from 0 to 180 in the blink of an eye, as if they were being pulled by rubber bands. Her leaps are soaring and perfectly formed, her fouettes were virtuosic, her balances were rock solid, and on and on.

When she did the Plisetskaya leaps in Act I, the audience literally gasped as her leg not just reached her head but went beyond it. She danced with verve and controlled abandon, and she seemed to thoroughly enjoy what she was doing at least as much as the audience. Indeed, the Met audience, liberally sprinkled with current and former dancers, baby ballerinas, and ballet cognoscenti, got perhaps even more than they had anticipated.

The fact that her Basilio was easily her match in nearly every respect made the overall performance even more complete. Jose Manuel Carreno was only perfect. In fact, if I have any criticism of Carreno’s performance, it is that he was almost too perfect, maybe a bit too refined – a little rough edge to Basilio would be appropriate. But that’s nit-picking. He was fabulous. ABT-goers know his leaping and turning ability, his partnering ability, and his strength. He demonstrated them all at this performance. But perhaps most notable was the obvious rapport he had with Vishneva. That she was trusting enough, and he was strong enough, for her to do an over-180 split while he held her over his head with one hand says it all.

As Mercedes, Veronika Part looked great and danced well. If she didn’t leave a stronger impression, it is because the choreography didn’t allow her to. David Hallberg was a blond bombshell as Espada. He brought life and energy (and yes, sex appeal) to what often is a cardboard role. Michele Wiles danced the Dryad Queen with her usual aplomb, and Sarawanee Tanatanit showed promise in the limited role of the Gypsy Girl. Sascha Radetsky was an energized Gypsy Boy and Maria Riccetto and Misty Copeland performed well as the Flower Girls. The only disappointment was Guillaume Graffin as Gamache, who was portrayed as a lumbering buffoon. Perhaps next time he could switch roles with Victor Barbee, who played Quixote. Barbee does a superb Gamache.

As Amour, Sarah Lane seemed a little nervous and tentative. She danced well, and brought some moderation to what often is an overly cute interpretation. She also paced her movements a little differently than other Amours I’ve seen, intelligently slowing down some movements almost to legato when she was able to do it. But she seemed also to have surprising difficulty getting off the ground, and needs to lift her forward leg higher in her leaps. But even with this relatively minor criticism, it was encouraging to see that she was given this featured role on the heels (or toes) of her superb debut last fall in “XIII”. All too often ABT relegates its promising corps dancers to stage candy, at least when the company appears at the Met.

The ones with promise, like Lane, need to be displayed as well as nurtured: one of the pleasures of seeing performances is being able to watch dancers grow as artists before our eyes. In that regard, and as competent a dancer as Wiles is, it might have been more interesting to have given the role of Dryad Queen, which is relatively limited in this production, to a promising corps dancer. Based on her work last fall, Kristi Boone might have been able to do it well, but there are probably others who the audience doesn’t usually get to see.

All in all, it was a superb performance, to which the multiple standing ovations can attest. My only regret is that Vishneva was not dancing in Baryshnikov’s production.

 

Edited by Staff.

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