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BWW Review: AMERICAN BALLET THEATRE'S 'DON QUIXOTE' at Kennedy Center

It was a terrific production in which the dancing highlighted the annual residency.

BWW Review: AMERICAN BALLET THEATRE'S 'DON QUIXOTE'  at Kennedy Center

Couples planning intricate surprise dance moves at their upcoming wedding receptions might as well give up now. Nothing will ever top the astounding artistry and athleticism that is highlighted in the back and forth between the wedded pair in American Ballet Theatre's performance of "Don Quixote" that caps their annual Kennedy Center residency.

The self-propelled spinning of the poised Isabella Boylston seemed tantamount to the discovery of a new, natural energy source. Daniil Simkin bounded through the air, bringing to mind Mikhail Baryshnikov, who also once put his stamp on this 19th century work on the same stage.

In exquisite costumes and lavish sets by Santo Loquasto, the choreography of Marius Petipa and Alexander Gorsky, the music of Ludwig Minkus backed by the full Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra, and conductor Evan Register, provided a glorious night. It was further enhanced by the coming of spring and the seeming end of the pandemic (though masks and vaccination proof was still required).

"Don Quixote" isn't really the story of the famous character by Cervantes. It picks up on a couple chapters of the novel in which the dotty old soldier and his sidekick, Sancho Panza, wander into a town where a young woman, Kitri (the excellent Boylston on opening night), is in love with a young man, Basilio (Simkin). Her father, the innkeeper, Lorenzo (Roman Zhurbin), prefers she marry a fop named Gamache (Luis Ribagorda). Within these disagreements, Quixote and Panza (Clinton Luckett and Javier Rivet) insert themselves into the conflict, mostly presenting the give and take from the sidelines.

Quixote has a hallucination that results in splendid groups of dancing maidens. Everything gets sorted before the third act's splendor of a wedding and a succession of dances.

As such, Luckett's portrayal of the lanky title character, in his comical air, spiky hair and slightly dazed manner, is more a welcome fellow witness to the colorful dance of the village than a very active participant.

At any rate, the story is in place merely to present a series of dances - in the town square, in a gypsy camp where the lovers escape, in a tavern where a suicide ploy finally gets the couple together, and finally, back in the village for the wedding celebration.

The dancing is delightful throughout the production, which is staged by Susan Jones and Kevin Mckenzie, the American Ballet Theatre artistic director who is retiring this season after 30 years.

The score by the Russian composer Ludwig Minkus is perfectly suited for dance; he punctuates it with a lot of castanets and snare drum, especially during the spotlights for Kitri's friends, the matador, Espada (Thomas Forster), and the street dancer, Mercedes (Devon Teuscher).

The tall Forster has a stoic stance, consummate with his profession; Teuscher's Spanish-derived moves add spice to their combinations.

Throughout, the appearances by two flower girls, Katherine Williams and Remy Young were also splendid.

For all the Spanish flavoring, "Don Quixote" is a Russian ballet from a Russian composer who created it with Petipa for the Imperial Russian Ballet at the Bolshoi in 1869. It was Baryshnikov's production, which he choreographed and danced premiered at the Kennedy Center in 1978. An earlier American Ballet Theater company premiere came in 1991 before the winning current version.

Russia also abounds in the work's execution; Simkin is a guest artist from Novosibirsk, Russia, after all. And as the world watches in pain the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it was McKenzie who stood on stage before the ballet to dedicate the performance "to those brave people in Ukraine," noting that performing arts and the art of diplomacy have the same goals: "to help us recognize ourselves in others."

There followed a performance of the Ukrainian National Anthem by the orchestra, to which the audience stood.

It was the extent of seriousness in an evening that was otherwise a glorious escape for the D.C. patrons (though one might imagine Putin a kind of misguided Quixote railing at windmills).

There was certainly no ill will toward Simkin, who soared with Boylston with the kind of grace and thrills engendered by Olympian athletes. His awe-inspiring barrel turns and his 540 spin were each worth their own bursts of applause.

Boylston's spinning was such that you might think her responsible for the spate of tornado warnings that went off Thursday night (showing once and for all exactly who in the audience turns off their phones and who does not). But it may have been the sunniness of the production that staved off bad weather immediately around the Kennedy Center that night.

Running time: Two hours, 20 minutes, with two 20-minute intermissions.

Photo credit: Isabella Boylston in American Ballet Theatre's "Don Quixote." Photo by Gene Schiavone.

American Ballet Theatre's "Don Quixote" ran at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts through Sunday, April 3. Information on upcoming dance programs available online.



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