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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 6, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 06
PNB's 'Don Quixote' offers the best of ballet at its most elevated and sparkling and three of the happiest hours imaginable
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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PNB's 'Don Quixote' offers the best of ballet at its most elevated and sparkling and three of the happiest hours imaginable

by Sharon Cumberland - SGN Contributing Writer

'DON QUIXOTE'
PACIFIC NORTHWEST BALLET
MCCAW HALL
January 30


There's simply nothing like ballet for the pure, joyful collision of music, spectacle, costumes, physical beauty and jaw-dropping talent. Just looking at video clips in preparation for Pacific Northwest Ballet's 'Don Quixote' gave me that thrill of excitement that lifted my spirits days before the actual performance. When I attended the full-length ballet on January 30 I was delighted beyond all my optimistic expectations. The words that come to mind are 'delightful,' 'charming,' 'exciting,' 'funny,' 'moving,' and 'Wow!'

This wonderful ballet, choreographed by the great Marius Petipa with later additions by Alexander Gorsky, takes place in the imaginary Spain where love is ever-blooming, jealousy is temporary, and flirtatious dancing is universal. The Spanish-style music by Ludwig Minkus gives us a Spain without the exaggerated tragedy of flamenco and without cante jondo. Instead, it is the Spain of the romantic imagination, where the sun is always shining, toreros [bullfighters] in their trajes de luces are never confronted by death, and true love reigns supreme (after some humorous detours). This exuberant combination of music and dance in the service of love is the antidote for any form of gloom or depression (Seahawk fans, take note).

The ballet is only partially about Don Quixote, the character invented by Spanish poet and adventurer Miguel de Cervantes. 'Don Quixote' took the European reading public by storm in 1605 with its humorous account of an old man driven mad by immersing himself in the fantasy world of chivalric Romances - epic poems featuring brave knights, star-crossed lovers, and feats of glory. They were the thrillers of their day, but Cervantes was the first to address a common fear of that period - similar to anxieties about electronics in the present era - that books would isolate readers from the real world and make people forget who they are. 'Don Quixote' tells the story of what happens when you obsess on stories so much that you loose your ability to tell the difference between reality and fantasy.

In this version of Cervantes' story, the adventures of Don Quixote - sweetly played by veteran actor Tom Skerritt - and his sidekick, Sancho Panza (the very funny Allen Galli) are broadly referenced in pantomime to form a framing story for the central drama of Kitri and her lover, Basilio, who want to marry in spite of her father's plan to wed his daughter to a wealthy aristocrat. Don Quixote's fantasy of ideal love and his valiant struggle with windmills and monsters (and a delightful troupe of dancing cacti) offers an emotional undercurrent to the lively contest between young love and old practicality that forms the heart of the ballet. On the night I attended, Kitri was danced with bouncy charm by Carla Körbes next to the mischievous Basilio, Batkhurel Bold. The foppish aristocrat, played with hilarious pratfalls and wounded dignity by Jonathan Porretta, provided the perfect foil for the triumph of love. In this act - as in the third act that ends with Kitri's wedding to her handsome Basilio - the array of folk dances, flamenco-style dance, and spectacular duets are executed by a marvelous corps of townsfolk, toreros, and principals, notably Karl Cruz as the dashing toreador, Espada. Petipa was particularly adept at using the corps de ballet as a living backdrop for the feats of soloists in the foreground, providing a lively embrace of tambourines, castanets, snapping fingers, and cries of Olé!

The second act - which is produced in some companies as a stand-alone ballet called 'Don Quixote's Dream' - contains some of the most virtuosic dancing of the evening by the bright-winged Cupid of Rachel Foster, the Queen of the Dryads, Lesley Rausch, a trio and quartet of lovely Dryads and a troupe of little girl cherubs, each carrying one of Cupid's arrows. In other stagings of this famous sequence of dances Don Quixote wanders through the formations as if sleepwalking, but fortunately for the audiences at McCaw Hall, the current staging by choreographer Alexei Ratmansky sends Don Quixote to the sidelines after a few moments of supporting the Queen on his outstretched arm. This allows for an undistracted cascade of gorgeous music and dancing that unfolds in wave after wave of pure pleasure. The audience on the evening I attended provided its own chorus of oohs, aahs, and applause all the way through this spectacular act. I was particularly grateful to see a significant role given to the ten young girl cherubs, students from the PNB school of dance, whose skipping and skittering steps - accompanied by adorable poses that only baby cupids could pull off - framed the virtuoso dancing of the adults like lace encircling a bouquet of roses.

I wish there were as many performances of Pacific Northwest Ballet's 'Don Quixote' as there were of the 'Nutcracker' since this would be the dance to bring new audiences to ballet. Unlike the now-retired Stowell & Sendak version of Tchaikovsky's Christmas extravaganza, this story ballet manages to tell its delightful tale with the full vocabulary of challenging dances set to perfectly matched musical accompaniment. It shows off the skill and precision of PNB's world-class performers in a way that the 'Nutcracker' never attempts. Its beautiful sets of sunny Spanish castles, flower-filled courtyards, shimmering Cupid's Cave, and even a smiling moon are matched with Don Quixote's nightmare of looming saguaro cacti and animal monsters (I wish they had stuck around longer in their fabulously strange costumes). No one stands around looking pretty in this perfect exemplar of a story ballet - though everyone looks gorgeous executing the best of ballet at its most elevated and sparkling. 'Don Quixote' is a perfect introduction to this great art form for children, families, and anyone who wants to spend three of the happiest hours imaginable. Don't miss it - performances continue through February 8.

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