You can’t get further from death than the sheer joy and contagious exuberance of “Don Quixote.” Launching its “New Generation” season with the world premiere of a new version of Ludwig Minkus’ captivating ballet, former Bolshoi Ballet dancer Yuri Possokhov puts the title character center stage, at least as much as Marius Petipa’s ensemble-based choreography will permit. Shortened from three acts to two, the result remains a lavish, gorgeous and utterly euphoric reimagining of a ballet that was never really broken to begin with.
Given a score that values every dance opportunity over any plausibility of plot, the windmill-tilting Don Quixote and his clownish sidekick Sancho Panza will always remain ancillary to the comic courtship of Kitri by the foppish Gamache, chosen by her venal innkeeper father Lorenzo. Of course, Kitri’s true love and eventual spouse is the barber Basilio who, unwittingly aided by the dashing toreador Espada and the would-be knight errant (who thinks Kitri is one more damsel in distress), triumphs in the final act’s elaborate wedding spectacle. Strangely, this production never shows us what Don Quixote is really pursuing—the ghostly lure of Dulcinea, the lady for whom all his sacrifices make sense.
Anyway Cervantes’ famous tale is just an excuse for the classical and folk dances—boleros, processions, waltzes, gallops, Habaneras, gypsy dances, and stylized bullfights of this inexhaustibly happy score, here perfectly played by the always excellent Chicago Sinfonietta. The grateful Auditorium Theatre audience is caught up in a virtual swirl of perpetual motion, lovely tour de forces in all combinations from solo turns to pas de deux to sweeping whirlpools of movement for the entire corps de ballet.
Dylan Gutierrez, resembling Gustave Dore’s famous etchings of the knight of the woeful countenance, anchors the action as a sober-sided Don Quixote, his gravity a balance to the follies that surround him. A red-haired Graham Maverick makes the most of Sancho Panza’s sudden promotion from peasant to squire.
But the heavy lifting, so to speak, is done by handsome Ogulcan Borova, a smoothly smiling Basilio who makes his turns, leaps and lifts seem like sleepdancing—except for the enthusiasm and energy that galvanizes every step. Substituting for the injured Yumelia Garcia, Amber Neumann delivered a Kitri whose grace was a bit too conditional to the moment, her pirouettes and entrechats convincingly but not thrillingly executed.
Richly detailed comic support came from Rory Hohenstein’s dandy Gamache and Willy Shives’ obsequious tavern owner, while as the glamorous couple of matador and street dancer, the very tall Fabrice Calmels and charmingly deft Valerie Robin could have escaped from “Carmen” and lost none of their Spanish fire. Christine Rocas as the Dryad Queen (in the dream sequence that follows Don Quixote’s loss of consciousness from an errant windmill) was elegance in action and, as Love herself, Anastacia Holden rose to that marvelous occasion. Not to be left out, Fernando Duarte and Fabio Lo Giudice were self-effacing as the insides of Rocinante, Don Quixote’s faithful steed. Lights down to curtain down, you can’t match “Don Quixote” for pure pleasure. You can only see it.
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