BWW Reviews: The Royal Ballet Triumphs at the Kennedy Center with Carlos Acosta's Don Quixote
Marius Petipa first staged Don Quixote for the Imperial Bolshoi Theater in 1869 to great acclaim, and it immediately entered the ballet canon. Almost every ballet enthusiast has seen a version of this work--new productions run the risk of seeming stale and mundane. This general familiarity made The Royal Ballet's decision to open its American tour with the U.S. premiere of Carlos Acosta's Don Quixote daring. The gambit paid off, however, as this production proved to be a fresh take on an old warhorse.
Founded by Dame Ninette de Valois in 1931, the Royal Ballet is one of the most prominent ballet companies in the world. It has boasted some of ballet's biggest stars and choreographers on its roster, from Sir Frederick Ashton and Dame Margot Fonteyn, to, more recently, Christopher Wheeldon and Liam Scarlett. For its opening performance at the Kennedy Center, the company trotted out two of its biggest stars: Carlos Acosta and Marienella Nunez. The former not only choreographed the ballet, but also danced the role of Basilio. Don Quixote holds a special significance to Acosta because he won the gold medal at the Prix de Lausanne by dancing the male variation of the third act pas de deux-and- when he was only sixteen.
The Royal Ballet cast wisely for the premier, as Acosta and Nunez were magnificent in the roles of Basilio and Kitri. They demonstrated not only perfect technical proficiency, but also imbued all of their physical motion with raw emotion. Acosta brought a confident swagger to his movements, and Nunez was flirty and joyful. Their chemistry and comfort as partners were evident, and they were delightful to watch. Ryoichi Hirano as Espada, a famous matador, and Yuhui Choe, as one of Kitri's friends, also stood out from the rest of the cast through their charisma and captivating movements.
While some productions of Don Quixote can drag between the two main Petipa pas de deux, Acosta's soared throughout the evening. His choreography complemented and intensified the ballet's Spanish flare. Dancers swept across the stage with leaps and dramatic ports de bras. He breathed life into the corps of villagers who were not relegated to the sidelines, but were active participants. A group of four corps members, acting as mischievous street urchins, were a delightful highlight throughout evening. Their hammy antics made the audience laugh during transitional moments. Acosta's choreography, however, was not all slapstick, and his trademark, show-stopping lifts were breathtaking in their simplicity, grace, and technique. He deftly set the mood throughout the performance, delivering paranoia during the windmill scene, sensuality as Basilio and Kitri fell in love in the woods, and triumph in the third act. These performers' passion captivated the audience throughout the evening, making a three-hour ballet pass like mere minutes.
The choreography was supported by the magnificent set design and the brilliant conducting of Philippe Auguin, Music Director of The Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra. Not only were the Royal Ballet's sets more intricate than most traveling sets, but also complemented by sumptuous surroundings that helped establish the mood in each scene. Auguin boldly showed off his excellent skills and timing, and the music amplified the tension and triumph in Acosta's choreography.
What truly set Acosta's Don Quixote apart from any other staging of the work, though, was his treatment of the title character. Most productions treat Don Quixote as a distracting exclamation point who traipses across stage as needed, but is mostly relegated to the sidelines. Acosta made efforts to help the audience understand Don Quixote's motivations and inner madness, especially during the classic windmill scene. While the main characters are enjoying themselves at a gypsy camp, the audience sees Don Quixote wander off and become frightened by a distant windmill. Whenever he pulls Sancho Panza away to look at the windmill, the set piece is moved offstage, only to be replaced with a larger version. As the windmill grows, the music swells. This juxtaposition produces tension, making the climax of the scene both dramatic and ridiculous. Acosta's thoughtfulness and creativity throughout the ballet truly sets this production apart.
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From This Author Frances Steiner