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Premiere: 'Don Quixote'

Restored film of George Balanchine's 1965 gala performance featuring George Balanchine and Suzanne Farrell

by Carmel Morgan

September 5, 2007 -- The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, DC

I was not born when the teenage Suzanne Farrell first starred in George Balanchine’s “Don Quixote.”  But thanks to the restored film version of this 1965 ballet, I was able to witness for myself the nineteen year-old marvel’s extraordinary talent.  Her performance as Dulcinea, the object of Don Quixote’s affection, was full of incredible vulnerability and charm.  In addition, the film portrayed a rare stage performance of the master, George Balanchine, who was heart-rending as the aging dreamer, Don Quixote. 

The film, which is black and white, has its share of problems.  The lighting is poor, and the sound is terrible.  The microphone was not fully plugged in when the film was made, and so there is an eerie buzz throughout.  For archival purposes, though, the film is a gem.  It gives us special up-close glimpses that are true treasures. 

Suzanne Farrell introduced the restored film at its premiere at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, which is home to her company, the Suzanne Farrell Ballet.  She explained that she did not see the film until after the death of “Mr. B.”  She was struck by many of the precious moments that the film captures, including a moment at the end of the ballet when Balanchine as Don Quixote is supposed to be dead.  He gently pats her hand as she is overcome by his passing, an odd gift from the grave that she had a chance to revisit when she viewed the film. 

“Don Quixote” overall is extremely enjoyable.  It reaches a remarkable balance between pathos and humor.  While the movement of the dancers is not always easy to discern due to technical difficulties with the film, the brilliance of the choreography and the dancers is clear.  Ms. Farrell, in particular, is exquisite.  She dances with elegance well beyond her teenage years, yet her demeanor is still somehow sweet and fragile.    

This restoration begs us to rediscover “Don Quixote.”  The film audience was moved enough to begin applauding after certain crowd-pleasing turns.  While the film is disappointing from the standpoint of clarity, it nonetheless presents a delightful, entertaining ballet that passes the test of time.

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