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American Ballet Theatre

'Don Quixote'

by Colleen Boresta

May 18 (matinee) and 21 (matinee), 2011 -- Met Opera House, New York, NY

The ballet, Don Quixote, is not really about the legendary knight who is forever searching for his Dulcinea. The Don himself is not the main character of the ballet. Don Quixote is actually about two young Spanish lovers, Kitri and Basilio. The plot in Don Q, however, is of secondary importance. Don Quixote was choreographed by Marius Petipa, a 19th century Frenchman living in St. Petersburg, Russia. Petipa’s main goals for this ballet are phenomenal dancing, lively music and a good time for the audience. American Ballet Theatre’s production of Don Quixote, staged by Kevin McKenzie and Susan Jones, show offs Petipa’s famous comedy to its best advantage.

As already mentioned, Don Q is the story of Kitri, a young girl living in Seville, Spain. In Act I, Kitri is in love with Basilio, a penniless barber, but her father wants her to marry the foppish and wealthy Gamache. At the same time, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza arrive in Seville. The Don is in search of his eternal love, Dulcinea.

In Act II, Kitri and Basilio run away and hide at a Gypsy camp where Don Quixote and Sancho Pancho find the young couple. In the spirit of true love, the Don is trying to help Kitri and Basilio get married. While at the camp, the Don attacks a windmill, believing it to be a giant threatening Dulcinea’s safety. During the “attack”, the Don falls and is rescued by Basilio and the Gypsy King. Quixote then falls asleep, dreaming of enchanted maidens and Kitri as his Dulcinea.

Lorenzo and Gamache arrive at the Gypsy camp looking for Kitri and Basilio. The young lovers then go back to Seville where Kitri’s father and Gamache eventually catch up to them.
Lorenzo tells Kitri she must marry Gamache, so Basilio commits “suicide”. Upon learning of the farce, the whole town begs Lorenzo to let Kitri marry the “corpse”. Lorenzo reluctantly agrees, and Basilio springs back to life.

In Act III Kitri and Basilio get married. All of Seville celebrates their wedding.

There was not a principal dancer to be found at the May 18th matinee. Yet I left the theater feeling exhilarated and full of joy. I can sum up why I felt this way in two words – Daniil Simkin.
Young ABT soloist, Daniil Simkin, is a riveting and exciting Basilio. Simkin’s performance will stay etched in my mind’s eye for a long time. Simkin is one of those rare performers who light up the stage just by walking across it. As a dancer, he is a wonder of ebullient virtuosity.
His soaring leaps with those incredibly soft landings, his spins and turns – all are spectacular. Simkin makes the most difficult pyrotechnics look both easy and effortless. And he never loses his classical form. Ballet is definitely his native language. Simkin’s partnering skills are fine, especially for such a slight young dancer. There was a slight wobble during the first one-handed lift in Act I, but the rest of his lifts were smoothly executed. Simkin full immerses himself in the character of Basilio. He acts with a free and natural comic flow.

Yuriko Kajiya is a lovely lyrical dancer, best suited for romantic roles. That being said, I was pleasantly surprised by her performance as Kitri at the May 18th matinee. Kajiya is a sweet Kitri, with artless comic timing. She and Simkin are very believable as the young couple in love.
As a dancer, Kajiya excels in exquisitely light leaps and gorgeous jumps with a kick to the back of her head. Her first balance in the Act III grand pas was somewhat wobbly, but the next two balances were very securely held. Her fouettes, though only singles, (I’ve gotten too used to seeing multiple fouettes from ABT ballerinas.) are steady and complete. However, Kajiya’s dancing lacks the speed and sharpness of attack needed for the role of Kitri.

As Espada, Jared Matthews’ dancing is solid, but his performance lacks the required Spanish flair. After all, he is supposed to be a matador. Stella Abrera shines in the dual role of Mercedes in the Seville scenes, and the Queen of the Dryads in the vision scene. Abrera dances Mercedes with a sultry steaminess, but her Queen of the Dryads is a model of classical precision.

Alexei Agoudine is both funny and endearing as Gamache. He certainly knows how to take a pratfall. As Amour, Gemma Bond’s dancing lacks lightness and buoyancy.

As good as the May 18th matinee was, the American Ballet Theatre May 21st matinee of Don Quixote belongs in a class of truly great ballet performances. When ABT first announced that Polina Semionova would dance Kitri with David Hallberg as Basilio in Don Q, some ballet pundits wondered how such a tall elegant ballerina would fare as the Spanish spitfire.

I am very pleased to say that Semionova is a practically perfect Kitri. She is a playful and flirtatious young girl full of fiery passion. Her crisp, precise footwork and whiplash turns are breathtaking. In her solos in Act I and the Act II vision scene Semionova whirls across the stage at a dizzying pace. The height of her jumps is awe inspiring and her extensions are glorious. Her balances are also amazing. In the Act III grand pas Semionova holds her balances so long it’s as though time stands still. And she whips off fouettes at a rapid fire rate, opening and closing her fan when she executes a double or triple. As a performer Semionova is the total package. Her steps are always complete and refined while her phrasing is smooth and lovely.
As Basilio, David Hallberg shows that he can perform comic roles just as well as princely ones. Hallberg’s air turns are not quite as sharp as Daniil Simkin’s, but every turn is clean and complete. And those sky high grand jetes with their perfect feathered landings – magical!

One of the great things about the May 21st matinee is how in sync Semionova and Hallberg are. Their air of playfulness, their clean, precise mime, their elevation, their long lovely lines – they all meshed. The chemistry between Seminonova and Hallberg is palpable. But then David Hallberg seems to have chemistry with practically every ballerina he partners.

I have loved Veronika Part’s performances as Nikiya in La Bayadere and Odette/Odile in Swan Lake, but in the dual role of Mercedes/the Queen of the Dryads she is a major disappointment. Part has a very supple upper body which she uses to great effect, especially as Mercedes in the Seville scenes. Her footwork, however, is plodding and her movements in the Act II vision scene are very slow and heavy. While executing the Italian fouettes, her leg kept drooping sadly.

As on Wednesday, Jared Matthews is Espada, the matador. Alex Agoudine is again a delight as Gamache. Sarah Lane’s Amour stands out for her quicksilver footwork and the crystalline delicacy of her leaps.

I hope ABT keeps this ebullient production of Don Quixote in their repertoire for a long time.

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