When I first learned that there was a ballet based on Don Quixote, I was confused. Not just because Don Quixote was the most difficult and frustrating book I read for my 2010 book challenge, but rather because how the heck do you make a ballet out of The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha? I mean, there are problems with portraying the relatively simple story of Romeo and Juliet, so what were they thinking? (Probably “Oooh, imagine the great costumes!” as I did when I first heard of it.)
And, while some of them were a bit too bright and garish, this production did indeed feature gorgeous costumes by Martin Pakledinaz. Also, a horse and a donkey on stage. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The ballet is based on one encounter among many in the 1000-page epic—the story of the wedding between Quiteria and Basilio, which comes early in the Second Part of the novel (i.e., the only part you should read. No, really.*). In their travels, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza come across preparations for a wedding. Quiteria, or often “Kitri” in the ballet, is set to marry a wealthy nobleman despite her love for Basilio. In a cunning ploy to win her back, Basilio fakes his death. Naturally, love conquers all and Don Quixote approves of these grand romantic gestures and goes on his merry way. The ballet takes the essence of this story while weaving bits and pieces of Don Quixote’s tale in and around it (windmills, delusions, Dulcinea, etc.).
In fact, the ballet begins much like the novel, with Don Quixote (Jim Sohm) engrossed in his books of chivalry and engaging Sancho Panza (Pascal Molat) as his squire. However, the action soon shifts to the story of Kitri (Maria Kochetkova) and Basilio (Taras Domitro), young lovers stymied by Kitri’s father, who plans to marry Kitri off to a foppish nobleman (Myles Thatcher).
The first act is rather slow, but the action picks up in Act II, which features some stellar roles for women, including that of the gypsy woman (Courtney Elizabeth) and a dream sequence where each solo was more spectacular than the last. Nicole Ciapponi as Cupid and Sarah Van Patten as Queen of the Driads deserve special mention here.
The action of Act II closes in a tavern, where Basilio fakes his death in a humorous scene where Don Quixote becomes sympathetic to the young couple after chasing them down through most of the ballet. While Kochetkova in most of this piece was less a fiery Spanish beauty than a classical, technical dancer (not that there’s anything wrong with that, she’s gorgeous to watch), her mime was accomplished here and perfect for the mood of the piece. And the couple, who I had last seen together in the pas de
deuxtrois of Francesca da Rimini, had some nice work in the pas de deux. I should also note that Sofiane Sylve, who I loved as the jellyfish in Le Carnaval des animaux, was equally beguiling as Mercedes throughout.
Act III consists of Kitri’s wedding, which is often featured as a one-off program and is considered the showpiece of the ballet; however, I felt that it was a bit of a letdown after the incredible Act II.
And that, in a nutshell, is the greatest problem with this ballet—the structure. First of all, it is long. The acts are rather uneven and, with the two narrative threads, the pacing is odd. The horse and the donkey on stage are supposed to be “wow” moments, but they are really more distracting than anything else. These structural deficiencies were not helped by the music (Léon Minkus) which, while using a few interesting themes, doesn’t reach the heights of Tchaikovsky or Prokofiev.
Like Coppélia (but clearly not the one I saw in Paris), Don Quixote is considered a “comic ballet” and, aside from the fake death scene, it is the Don Quixote story that is played for laughs. A bit too many in my opinion as much of the Don Quixote and Sancho Panza moments don’t really involve dance. Pascal Molat, he of the incredible center, was wasted as Sancho Panza. I feel like you could strip away almost all of their scenes and still have a great ballet.
So, while I enjoyed the performance and would readily see it again, this ballet is six scenes in search of an editor.
*My standard recommendation for Don Quixote is to read as much of the First Part as you can stand (i.e., until you want to throw the book across the room and/or do yourself bodily harm), then start the Second Part. Try it, you’ll thank me.