BWW Reviews: American Ballet Theatre Delights With Gallic-Flavored Highjinks in DON QUIXOTE
On the rain-soaked evening of May 16th 2014, ABT delivered a mood-boosting performance of "Don Quixote" for a full house of grateful dancegoers at the Metropolitan Opera House in Lincoln Center. Dazzling Gallic-flavored dancing and full-throttle comedy to the music of Minkus helped to push dire flash flood warnings out of the minds of many in the audience. I heard plenty of comments during intermissions by people who said that driving in from the suburbs or sloshing through sidewalk puddles was more than worth the trouble. I agreed!
Yet before I go on with what will be a largely laudatory review, I have to get a somewhat grumpy opinion off my mind. This has nothing to do with the current Don Q staging by Kevin McKenzie and Susan Jones dating from 1995. Rather, my complaint is about the original libretto devised way back in 1740 for a production by the Austrian choreographer Franz Hilverding, which has continued to inform most of the productions that followed including the seminal work by Petipa in 1869. The ballet's story about the romance between Kitri and Basilio is based on two of the least compelling chapters in the seventeenth century novel by Miguel de Cervantes, which is a complex exploration of delusion and defeat that has been heralded as the birth of modern literature.
The musical "Man of la Mancha" with a book by Dale Wasserman and lyrics by Joe Darion does a much more admirable job of translating for the stage Cervantes' message of desire and dashed hopes. Witness these stirring lyrics: "To dream the impossible dream/To fight the unbeatable foe/To bear with unbearable sorrow/And to run where the brave dare not go." The denouement of the musical, true to what Cervantes wrote, is the death of Don Quixote as he realizes he is actually Alonso Quixano. Ironically, sanity turns out to be his nemesis.
Even so, perhaps Hilverding and Petipa knew what they were doing when they opted for a crowd-pleasing romp rather than a tragic tale. The great Mr. B. himself once choreographed a dark version of Don Q. to lugubrious music by Nicolas Nabokov. Balanchine danced the title role himself and the young Suzanne Farrell was his Dulcinea. Yet the ballet fairly quickly dropped out of the NYCB repertoire because of a lack of interest.