American Ballet Theatre’s Don Quixote Review
March 31, 2022 | The Kennedy Center – Washington, DC , USA
On Thursday night, March 31st, Washington, DC’s John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts hosted the first of five performances of American Ballet Theatre’s Don Quixote. The story ballet was set to the original 1869 choreography of French master Marius Petipa, with Alexander Gorsky, scored by Ludwig Minkus and arranged by Jack Everly. Staging was the 1995 crafting of ABT Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie, with Susan Jones.
As the Kennedy Center celebrates the 50th season, we remember that the Center’s inaugural season spotlighted an ABT performance of the famous Act III pas de deux from this ballet. Over these fifty years, the Kennedy Center’s stages have remained stalwart national homes for excellence in the arts. Concurrently, ABT has remained foundational to that excellence, returning every season for residency.
The Thursday night performance reflected layers of tradition and the profiles in courage required of such a long-running partnership.
In this 50th season, we see an ABT with a powerful, talented collection of dancers so vast that they can stage, literally, five complete performances without ever duplicating a dancer in key performative roles. ABT fosters this significant talent through company-wide consistency in footwork and form while nurturing individual expertise in port de bras and pantomime. The result: each performance is consistent, but the characters are as individual as the dancers themselves.
For example, at Thursday’s daytime open dress rehearsal, Kanon Kimura was light and ethereal, impish and exacting in her role as Amour, a part she’ll deliver Friday night. But for the Thursday night performance, Amour Léa Fleytoux was long and lean and athletic. Both dancers had excellent form – fast, fast footwork supported stable upper bodies conveying their character’s emotions and actions. Both Amours were captivating and believable, but on each dancer’s individual terms, a freedom McKenzie has nurtured over his 30-year career.
American Ballet Theatre's Don Quixote at The Kennedy Center
For Thursday night, former ABT Principal and now Guest Artist Daniil Simkin was our Basilio, a perfect partner to Isabella Boylston’s Kitri. Throughout the first act, Simkin’s silky pirouettes set a standard he maintained all night – controlled, easy, and precise. Despite insignificant, minor gaffes here and there as Boylston settled into what would become definitive second and third Acts for her, the audience was reminded of the power of live performance. We didn’t come to see robotic perfection.
We came to watch real stories unfold. And that’s what we witnessed.
Most importantly, for this ballet to convey the Cervantes ideal of challenging societal norms, we must know the characters as people we can trust. And we trusted this Kitri and Basilio. Of course, the dancer’s individual reputations as accomplished performers factored into that trust.
But the company’s complete internalization of the choreography allowed consistent focus on character development, from gazes to direct visual connection with the audience. For example, by Act I’s charming ‘leg catch,’ in which Basilio catches Kitri’s leg on the third try, the audience was already entranced in the couple’s actions, laughing out loud en masse.
Devon Teuscher’s Mercedes alongside Thomas Forster’s Espada, the Matador, also captivated the crowd from Act I forward. For the several grand, full-stage runs and cape work, the audience could often see the anticipation in Forster as he attacked his moves, much as the crowd sees the action in Spain’s San Fermin Festival. Forster’s height allowed Teuscher to circle fully underneath his expanded overhead cape in their pairing.
Solo, Forster commanded the cape with flawless execution. When the cape finally landed on the stage, several in the audience shouted out at the spectacle. Toro indeed. The playfulness of his six-member toreador troupe completed the important tenets of the Spanish trope.
Teuscher’s dramatic navigation of the Toreador’s banderillas was also memorable. Side-to-side, then backwards en pointe, she navigated the bright little darts with gentle ease.
This performance also provided the best villain this reviewer has ever seen in Don Quixote, Luis Ribagorda, who embodied a sophisticated if oft-duped Gamache. Extensive white facial make-up and a well-coiffed black wig underscored his confident air, enhancing comedic gaffes more than once at his character’s expense.
Act II allowed the six-member gypsy corps to showcase height and full extension in their cavalcade of leaps and feats. The pull between The Matador and his mesmerizing bull, personified in Teuscher’s Mercedes, was palpable here as well.
The call-and-response twinning of Simkin and Boylston was electrifying by this point, with resounding applause following each lead’s solo. Perfect arching of the back – a consistent realization by all this night – complimented everything from the staccato pointe work to softer demi-pointe passages.
Again, as in Act I, dreamy twining of port de bras between Simkin and Boylston showcased symmetrical height and placement.
By Act III, the audience happily assumed each movement would end in sync between dancers and orchestra due to the expertise of ABT Music Director and tonight’s Conductor, Ormsby Wilkins.
From start to finish, the orchestra committed to Wilkins and his baton; he committed to his dancers, and the synergy built throughout the performance. Such collaboration is required of this complex and rapid ballet but rarely realized at this level.
Santo Loquasto’s scenery and costumes were spectacular in this final act, particularly the sparkling white, bejeweled wear of our Kitri and Basilio. And the final, coy veronicas between Mercedes and Espada were dazzling against their gold costumes.
The audience enjoyed Simkin’s delicate positioning of Boylston for her complex, gravity-defying attitudes balances. Her fouettés, too fast and flawless to count, brought her forward on the stage. Simkin answered with vigorous, stunning grand allegro, entrechats, and extensions.
The much-anticipated final pas de deux between Boylston and Simkin was worth the wait – paradoxically intimate and expansive in the realization. What started as a slow burn in Act I culminated in a full eruption of speed and execution that had the audience verbally reacting for much of the last Act.
As the ballet closed with the complete company in happy movement during the Wedding Scene, the audience was roaring with applause before the curtain even started coming down. The buzz continued outside the Opera House, as patrons raved all the way to the Center’s front door over the ballet’s stunning success. Magnificent.
While attending a ballet is about the performance itself, of course, The Kennedy Center created a complete experience, as always, for all patrons, starting at the Vaccine Verification Center, when Staffers like Jeff Urujo patiently and warmly welcomed us to the Center and the experience. No detail is missed at the Center, and the pride in the staff showed at every level.
Don Quixote continues at The Kennedy Center through April 3rd.
Featured Photo of Isabella Boylston in American Ballet Theatre’s Don Quixote. Photo by Gene Schiavone.
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