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National Ballet of Canada

"Don Quixote"

by Kate Snedeker

March 9, 2011 -- Four Seasons Centre, Toronto, Ontario

The National Ballet of Canada returned to the stage in the blaze of color and bravura that is “Don Quixote”. After more than a decade’s break - due to a brief, unsurprisingly unsuccessful jaunt with Balanchine’s quirky version - the company’s old Gorsky-choreography-era production was given a new life by Lindsay Fischer and Evelina Krasnova. And what a life! What balletic Don Quixote’s tend to lack in any sense of story, they make up in dance, character and color. This version is no exception.

Despite the title, the Don himself is a minor character in the ballet, watching from the sidelines as the love story of Kitri and Basilio unfolds. Yet, Hazaros Surmeyan and Robert Stephen were anything but minor as the Don and his ever-thieving sidekick Sancho Panza. Surmeyan brought a tender pathos and humanity to the bumbling Don that helped to anchor the rest of the ballet in some sort of reality. The touching performance was a testament to Surmeyan’s skill as a character artist. Also surprisingly touching were the two young corps members who, in the prologue, portrayed the Don’s servants. In the start of the prologue, the two sneak in to “read” some of the Don’s books. Both the character skills of and the mime skills between the two were brilliant, and the resulting short sequence was completely entrancing!

This production’s strengths lie in the colorful costumes and imaginative, bustling choreography for the corps. The male corps, in particular, thrived on the opportunities offered by the Spanish-flavoured dances and the gypsy dances in the second act. They were high-flying, and impressively in synch in tricky spins and jumps.
Piotr Stanczyk was a relatively late replacement for the originally scheduled Guillaume Côté, but had the advantage of being the only dancer to have performed Basilio when the production was last performed. Stancyzk is more of an introspective dancer, so his is not the flashiest of Basilios, but he has wonderfully unfussy, clean technique and brilliant pirouettes. Hodgkinson, who was supposed to be paired with the 6ft+ Côté is probably a touch too tall for Stanczyk, but there was not a hint of hesitation in their partnering. Her balances were impressive, and the high one-handed Act I pas de deux lifts were absolutely rock solid. One second she’s on the stage, the next she’s up over his head, and you barely see either of them move!

However, in terms of spice and chemistry, it was Xiao Nan Yu’s Mercedes and Aleksandar Antonijevic’s Espada who really lit up the stage. Aside from a scary moment during his tavern table-top dance, Antonijevic was perfect as the strutting toreador, with Yu stunning in her vivid-green dress.

The production sags a bit in the long second act. Desmond Heeley’s gypsy costumes are a bit garish, especially the women’s wigs and the men’s overly baggy pants. The effect is more pirate than gypsy, and I actually thought the wonderfully atmospheric tavern set was supposed to be wharves or docks (hence the pirates). The Don’s dream is about as disconnected from the story as every male balletic dream scene, but who doesn’t like an excuse for some heavenly dancing and long lines of elegant ballerinas. If the production could use any tweaking, it’s in the final scene of Act II. The chaotic scene that ends with Kitri and Basilio successful thwarting of her marriage to the foppish Gamache can be a wonderful opportunity for dancers to show off their comedic chops. However, here it seemed overly rushed, with more hustle than humor. Still, one couldn’t help but be amused by Kevin Bowles’ Gamache, and Stanczyk’s not so subtly alive, dead Basilio.

If the second act occasionally sags, the third act storms along. There’s no better show of balletic bravura than the Act III pas de deux, and Stanczyk & Hodgkinson gave a capable rendition. He seems a most capable partner, and she full of stage presence, a perfect on-stage combination. And they were backed up a corps who showed none of the rust from Saturday’s Theme and Variations. With a dress or tights of every possible color onstage, we were left with vivid memories to get us through the sleety evening beyond the theatre walls!

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