Imagine that: an enchanting ‘Don Quixote’

October 17, 2011
Review by Chicago Sun-Times
Hedy Weiss


Few have entertained more elaborate fantasies than those conjured by that tall, wiry old man of La Mancha known to all as Don Quixote. But even he would have to admit that the beguiling reality of the Joffrey Ballet’s new full-length production that bears his name, now at the Auditorium Theatre, could not possibly be improved upon. It is an altogether enchanting piece of dance theater.

Though steeped in 19th century ballet tradition, with all the bravura technical challenges that requires, this newly envisioned version of “Don Quixote,” created by the Bolshoi-bred, San Francisco-based choreographer Yuri Possokhov, is fresh, funny, modern and full of deftly portrayed characters. Its storytelling moves with gusto and clarity. It is full-to-bursting with an exuberant mix of the classic’s most challenging pointe work and stylish glosses on traditional Spanish dance. And its richly evocative design — a wholly seamless layering of the traditional and the contemporary — works wonders. Best of all, this ballet, which provides a showcase for the varied talents of many of the company’s dancers, also serves as a reminder of what has long been the Joffrey’s trademark: its ability to joyfully connect with its audience.

The story captures the intersection of two worlds. There are the goofily chivalrous exploits and hallucinations of the romantic Don Quixote (played winningly Saturday evening by Jack Thorpe-Baker)’ his comically acrobatic sidekick, Sancho Panza (the ever-zesty and appealing Derrick Agnoletti), and the Don’s timeworn horse, Rocinante (Vonorthal Puppets’ man-powered steel frame creature has a full life of its own). And then there are the earthy inhabitants of a typical Spanish town where Kitri and Basilio, a pair of comically thwarted young lovers, must stand their ground against a determined father and a foppish suitor.

The sublime Victoria Jaiani, dancing at the very top of her game, put an indelible mark on Kitri, a role that demands spectacular technique and endurance. Dark-eyed and slender as a willow — with long, gorgeously eloquent legs, a bold yet wholly weightless jump and a steely back that nevertheless has a dramatically lovely arch — Jaiani is the most elegant of coquettes. Her beauty and technique come paired with a wonderful sense of mischief. And she was at her sparklingly flirty, playful best here. As Basilio, her exceptional partner, was the the tall, dark, slender, supremely airborn Dylan Gutierrez, whose one-arm lifts had Jaiani perched mid-air as if held by a wire. Breathtaking.

But there was feverish dancing throughout the evening. Anastacia Holden and Amber Neumann were perfection as Kitri’s friends. The ever-commanding Valerie Robin (also with a magnificently arched back) was all fire and fancy footwork as Mercedes, the street dancer. Abigail Simon was a sheer delight as Amore, the naughty little love sprite. The toreadors, led by Fabrice Calmels, were full of haughty style, there was zany character work by Matthew Adamczyk, Mahallia Ward and Willy Shives, and the fine ensemble was winningly engaged in every scene.

Jack Mehler’s sets (including a four-poster bed whose posts become Don Quixote’s staffs) are superbly overlaid with Wendall Harrington’s sophisticated, ingenius use of projections, including animated windmills. And Travis Halsey’s splendiferous costumes (including the most delicate tutus this side of Moscow) seemed to dance almost on their own.

The Chicago Sinfonietta, led by Scott Speck, infused the Ludwig Minkus score with the speed, color and lightness that marked every aspect of Possokhov’s exuberant production.

Note: There are several rotating casts for “Don Quixote.”