American Ballet Theatre Review of Don Quixote: More Perfect Than Perfect?
American Ballet Theatre Review of Don Quixote June 14, 2022 | Metropolitan Opera House – New York, NY, USA
The night after American Ballet Theatre’s first Met Season gala, Skylar Brandt made her New York debut of Kitri in Don Quixote and the Metropolitan Opera House opened the doors to ballet for the first time in three years.
Kicking off their five-week season – three shorter than years past – Brandt performed next to the seasoned principal Herman Cornejo dancing Basilio. Newly promoted principal Cassandra Trenary also made her debut as Mercedes and Queen of the Dryads alongside soloist Gabe Stone Shayer debuting as the fiery bull-fighter Espada. Rachel Richardson also stepped in to perform a flitting and lively cupid.
Don Quixote is a classic and a colorful staple of the company’s repertoire, and Tuesday night I was reminded of why Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie made the decision for it to be the opening ballet for his final season.
With a sweeping score written by Ludwig Minkus, colorful costuming, and grand sets, the ballet transports the audience to the heat of the dry summers of the 1600s in an interpretative and comical re-telling of Miguel de Cervantes’ timeless epic. I’ve never attended a performance of ABT’s production of Don Quixote where the audience is not entirely invested in the production, and Tuesday night did not disappoint.
It was clear all of the dancers – many making debuts as they climb the ranks – had made significant improvements since their previous seasons. All of their coaching, dedication, and hard work were definitely reflected in their clean and organized technique.
American Ballet Theatre Review of Don Quixote
All of the dancers looked as if they were having the time of their lives onstage bringing this vivid ballet to life. Trenary stood out in particular, as I appreciated her intention of strongly contrasting the vivacity of Mercedes with the ethereal and calm command of the Queen of the Dryads. Her fancy and flirtatious footwork as Mercedes went fabulously alongside Shayer as he danced a tiny yet powerful Espada. He leapt through toreador-inspired jumps impressively coordinating a cape nearly the length of his height around his body – although even the size of the giant cape couldn’t hide all of the personality of the couple.
Brandt, naturally, was nothing short of perfection.
She performed flawlessly, effortlessly, and gracefully through the duration of the three-act ballet. This is no small feat, as it is one of the most demanding roles in ballet repertoire, in my opinion, due to the extensive grand allegro which Brandt flew through without a sound from her landings in her pointe shoes.
It was interesting to see Brandt and Cornejo paired together for Don Quixote, since the last time they were at Lincoln Center they were paired for Giselle. In Giselle, the partnership felt reasonable, as Brandt’s natural demure and delicate disposition was a fitting contrast to Cornejo’s more stoic personality: a perfect match for the roles of Giselle and Albrecht. However, going in for Don Quixote, I had my doubts.
I was immediately proved wrong, as their chemistry was feisty, witty, and phenomenal!
The technical execution of the timeless choreography was rehearsed, pristine, and impeccable, although the real gem of the show was watching the pair interact over mime onstage. A simple eye roll of Brandt’s large doll-like eyes or a humorous eyebrow wiggle from Cornejo was enough to break the house into laughter. Both Brandt and Cornejo did a fantastic job bringing their own personalities to the stage to convey the comedic love tale of Kitri and Basilio.
However, I had wished to see more of that originality and personality reflected with a little Spanish flair in the dancing itself. Out of all of the classics, Don Quixote - especially the first and third acts - is a space where refinement and classicism can be stretched and dancers can indulge in the movements to convey the dramatic plot.
Needless to say, there was so much sparkle in Brandt’s energy in the Act III Grand Pas. The crème-de-la-crème of classical pas de deux, Brandt and Cornejo gracefully executed controlled turns, delicate balances, in-synch jumps, and lifts with plenty of port de bras bravura.
However, I was left craving just a little more risk-taking. The pas was so delicate, it had the same energy as the Act II dream scene, and I wanted to see the same Kitri and Basilio I saw in the acting sequences reflected in the dancing (for our non-bunhead Ballet Herald readers, Kitri turns into the Dulcinea, Don Quixote’s “ideal woman,” for a dream sequence after he attacks the windmill and the role is traditionally danced by the same ballerina).
I wanted Cornejo and Brandt to lean in a little more, to throw in a little fan action, or go for the extra turn, a little further in a dip.
There was one flirtatious moment where Cornejo slicked his hair back in Basilio’s solo that made the audience react, and I wanted to see a few more moments like this throughout their dancing.
Overall, it was a marvelously exciting evening, and the audience adored the debuts, many immediately rising from their seats to cheer. Don Quixote is running through Saturday evening, with Brandt and Cornejo performing yet again for the June 18th matinee. For the rest of the season, Brandt will make her debut in Swan Lake beside Cornejo on June 29th and Theme & Variations with Cornejo on July 9th.
Featured Photo for this American Ballet Theatre Review of Don Quixote of Skylar Brandt and Herman Cornejo. Photo: Rosalie O’Connor.
Kasey Broekema is a reporter for The Sun US, as well as a freelance writer with work published from her fiction appearing in literary magazines, to getting the latest dance scoop, to neuroscience journals. She found her passion for dance twirling in a small studio in Kalamazoo, Michigan and her training included time with The School of Nashville Ballet, Vanderbilt University Dance Program, New Dialect, and Interlochen Center for the Arts. Broekema attended summer programs with Suzanne Farrell on Cedar Islands, with Brooke Desnoës and Violette Verdy at L’Académie de Danse de Paris, Joffrey Ballet NYC, Ellison Ballet, and American Ballet Theatre. She obtained her BA in English from Columbia University, Class of 2021. She is also a freelance dancer based in New York City and loves supporting small local companies. You can often find her scheming up story plots in dimly lit coffee shop corners, goggling in awe at her favorite dancers at Lincoln Center, and geeking out over Ancient Egyptian art at The Met Museum. Photo by John DeAmara