Anastasia Barsukova and Johnny Almeida Photo credit: Camilo Gomez
Our taste in classical story ballet favors the profound and the tragic--Swan Lake, Giselle, and Romeo and Juliet for example. But we can also enjoy the lighthearted ballets of which Don Quixote is a prime example. We so greatly enjoyed Gelsey Kirkland Ballet's Nutcracker some months ago (review archived) that we wouldn't have missed this production for the world.
Along with co-Artistic Director Michael Chernov, the renowned ballerina who dazzled us at American Ballet Theater many years ago has given us a new gift. The pair have a terrific sense of stagecraft and the ability to balance storytelling with the artistry of the dance. Adding greatly to the pleasure is the size and shape of the Schimmel Center at Pace University. The stage is wide and every seat has perfect sightlines allowing all members of the audience to experience an intimacy unknown at the Metropolitan Opera House or the New York State Theater.
Don Quixote was originally choreographed by Marius Petipa and Alexander Gorsky with colorful music by Ludwig Minkus. The small price one must pay for all these goodies is the lack of a live orchestra. The set by Court Watson is simple but effective with a painted backdrop featuring red-tiled roofs. The costume design by Mr. Chernov (who also directed) is sumptuous and colorful.
But it is the dancing for which one goes to the ballet and we were highly impressed by Anastasia Barsukova who danced the role of Kitri. She is petite but has gorgeous extensions and lovely phrasing. Her effective partner was Johnny Almeida whose slight stature gives no clue as to his prodigious partnering skills.
The dancing grew in intensity over the course of the evening and by the time we got to Act III (Kitri's Wedding) we just knew we would be treated to a splendid pas de deux with its goose bump inducing swan dives. The variations finally revealed Mr. Almeida's superb technique to its fullest extent. One could feel the electricity running through the audience during the dazzling coda. We always thrill to the tour jetés.
Sabina Alvarez made a fine street dancer with Guilherme Junio as Espada, arriving with his team of Toreros. In Act II we admired the gypsy solo of Katrina Crawford.
There was a very clever puppet show with tiny people enacting the puppets.
In the Enchanted Forest Scene, a ballerina even tinier than Ms. Barsukova, Kyono-Chantal Morin was winning as Amour. The entire company performed well with evidence of strength in the corps de ballet. Also in evidence was some rather intensive rehearsal since ensembles were consistently together. One happy observation was that all of the male dancers landed softly.
Space will not permit mentioning all the dancers but we would like to acknowledge the marvelous mime skills of Alexander Mays as the titular character--foolish but lovable. His sidekick Sancho Panza was Satoki Habuchi. Samuel Humphreys made a fine Lorenzo (Kitri's controlling father) with Erez Ben-Zion Milatin portraying the silly fop Gamache whom he has chosen as Kitri's husband.
We can barely wait to see what Gelsey Kirkland Ballet comes up with next. It is sure to be dramatically compelling and artistically performed. But, you don't have to wait to enjoy this excellent company because Don Quixote is playing through Saturday night. Don't miss it!
(c) meche kroop