American Ballet Theatre
New York, Metropolitan Opera House
16 May 2017
Don Quixote to the Rescue
Don Quixote, or Don Q, as it is almost universally known in the dance world, doesn’t get much respect. People in the know love to scoff at its bombast, shallowness, and total disregard for the deeper themes in Cervantes’s great picaresque novel. (All true!) And Ludwig Minkus’s music! (Eye rolls all around.) And yet, I cannot tell you what a relief it was to escape into the world of Don Q in this, the first week of American Ballet Theatre’s spring season at the Met. Outside, political turmoil, talk of collusion with foreign governments and investigations. Inside, joy, bravura, and talent to burn. Don Q is pure entertainment, the kind of extroverted spectacle that the ballet is so very good at. Minkus’s much-maligned music is bright and rhythmically-varied and incredibly danceable. Two and a half hours go by in a flash.
One of the great things about this ballet, particularly in ABT’s somewhat pared-down production, staged by Kevin McKenzie and Susan Jones, après Petipa and Alexander Gorsky, is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. The characters are cartoons, and they don’t try to pretend otherwise. Everyone is in on the joke. And its spirit is generous. The ballet is never exclusively about the principal couple; there are thirteen important roles, all but three of which get to really dance. At the end of each act, everyone comes together in a big ensemble number: toreadors, street dancers, flower girls, all mixed in with the hoi polloi. People keep time by clapping or snapping their fingers. It’s a ballet about the group, which is why it is such a bore when it is hijacked by a star couple that leaves everyone else in the dust.
There are several débuts this week. On May 16, I caught Misty Copeland and Jeffrey Cirio, both new to the ballet. They’re not ideally matched; he’s too small for her, and they don’t have much chemistry, and yet they each gave a very good performance, in his or her own way. Copeland was impeccably prepared; every aspect of her dancing and presentation was polished, nothing left to chance. Her phrasing, perfectly timed to the music, was particularly impressive. In the first act, when Kitri bangs her fan on the floor repeatedly as she circle the stage with jumps, each smack was strong and right on the beat. No pretend smacks for her. Nor was anything exaggerated in her interpretation. Her Kitri was down to earth, self-assured, charming and funny, though not terribly impetuous. She seems to have finally overcome her fear of fouetté turns; she executed 25 in the coda of the famous pas de deux in the third act. What’s missing is a bit more brashness, which she could acquire, and a more explosive jump, which may be a more uphill battle. The first act of Don Q is all about jumping – remember Plisetskaya? – and at this point in her career, Copeland hasn’t really got the juice in her legs. This was a well-calibrated performance of Kitri, but not a particularly exciting one.
Cirio, who is younger, is at that point in his career when nothing seems impossible. His jumps are gorgeous and buoyant, his timing is razor-sharp, his footwork clean and fast. His solos are a joy to watch, with turns in which the free leg changes position several times, etching clean shapes in space. Of course, because of his size, the big one-armed overhead lifts are a bit precarious. The trick where he tosses Kitri into the air only to catch her in a fish dive looked cautious – better that than a disaster. Nor is he a particularly subtle actor, though I did enjoy the way he tiptoed to the perfect spot on the stage on which to fall to the ground in his (act three) mock suicide.. Pure Bugs Bunny.
There were lots of other débuts as well: Catherine Hurlin as a glamorous and cool flower girl. (She has a featured role in Alexei Ratmansky’s Whipped Cream, which opens next week.) As Amor, Cassandra Trenary’s quick, crystal-clear pointe-work and sparkling jumps – sparkling, but not cutesy – skittered across the surface of the music. Jonathan Klein, usually a delicate-looking fellow, managed to turn himself into a surprisingly swarthy lead gypsy, throwing himself into wild leaps and fishtail jumps in the windmill scene. Espada was danced with elegance and a touch of nobility by Calvin Royal III, who shed his usual boyish lyricism; he was even better in the second act solo, when he launched into his big beautiful assemblés, landing in a proud lunge, like a matador in the ring. Reprising her role as Dryad Queen in the dream ballet that constitutes the only scene one can plausibly ascribe to Petipa, Veronika Part was majestic, her port de bras fluid and grand, each movement emanating from her strong and pliant back.
The evening was topped off by a very pleasing, lively rendition of Minkus’s colorful score. The rhythms jumped, the castanets gave off the flavor of old Seville. It was very Metro Goldwyn Mayer. And the players gave a glistening rendition of the musical interlude that separates the second and third scene in act two, which features a fabulous fanfare for the trumpet, its glistening repeated notes playing against the dominant rhythm.
So I’ll say it again: long live Don Q.