By Ron Fassler . . .
The title of this review alone offers three reasons that should send anyone rushing to see dance of the highest order: 1) American Ballet Theatre (ABT) being one of the premier ballet companies in the world; 2) Don Quixote, composed by Ludwig Minkus (1826-1917), which has been delighting audiences since its first performance by Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet in 1869, and; 3) the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center, as dazzling a setting for music and dance as exists on the planet. Add to that eminent Broadway designers like four-time Tony Award winner Santo Loquasto (sets and costumes) and Natasha Katz (lighting), who won her fifth Tony on Sunday night for MJ: The Musical, and this production elevates beyond a top score of ten to an eleven.
Originally choreographed by Marius Petipa (1818-1910), a French ballet dancer and choreographer, Don Quixote was later adapted by his contemporary, the Russian ballet dancer and teacher Alexander Gorsky (1871-1924). It was that version which became the standard for another century until it was rethought by such legends of the dance world as Anna Pavolva, George Balanchine, and Rudolph Nureyev. In 1978, Mikhail Baryshnikov put it in the company’s repertory as a vehicle for himself, in the role of Basilio, while he was ABT’s Artistic Director. Proving wildly popular, this is this version that first had the Santo Loquasto design, making the current production a forty-two-year-old design homage (and no less the worse for wear). Staged by Kevin McKenzie, the outgoing Artistic Director of ABT after a thirty-year run (long with Susan Jones), this Don Quixote provided a masterful vehicle for its two principal dancers, having first presented this version in 1995.
In the roles of the destined lovers, Yoo Won Ahn, a South Korean, danced Basilio opposite the Kitri of Catherine Hurlin, a native of Westchester. Both under thirty, each displayed skills and charisma that belied their years. The audience was highly vocal in their appreciation with ovations for their beautiful work time and again. Whether their backdrops were a town square in Seville, a gypsy camp outside the city (in the shadow of a giant windmill, de rigueur, if you’re telling the Don Quixote story), or a boisterous tavern, Loquasto’s lush designs set against Katz’s inspired lighting offset the glory of the dancing exquisitely. As Don Quixote (not quite the lead that character is in the Broadway musical Man of La Mancha) Cy Doherty possessed a grandness appropriate to the storytelling. The dream sequence in Act II gave us a glimpse of his acting prowess as he drifted in and out of confusion and exaltation, simultaneously. He was aided by the Sancho Panza of John Gardner, whose animal-like traits showed him hunched and ready to pounce in defense of his master for much of the evening. Most of the low comedy, all performed without benefit of speech, worked wonderfully.
The entire company felt fresh and deeply committed to the proceedings, reveling in the joy of having an audience as enthusiastic as the one gathered at the Met Wednesday night. Don Quixote is one of five ballets that will be presented this summer. The others include Khachaturian’s Of Love and Rage, Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, and American Splendor, a trio of diverse classics from its rich repertoire. I will be taking advantage of seeing at least one more of these offerings, as the combination of the quality of the ABT company, the glory of the Met and an orchestra, under the baton of Orsmby Wilkins, ABT’s music director, made for a magnificent summer night.
Don Quixote. Presented by the American Ballet Theatre at the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center. For more information on the current American Ballet Theatre’s season, please go to www.abt.org.
Photos: Rosalie O’Connor