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With a Spanish flavor: Moscow Festival Ballet’s Don Quixote.

The Cockeyed Optimist
By Mae G. Banner

Moscow Festival Ballet
Proctor’s Theatre, April 22

Like the picaresque novel that inspired it, the ballet of Don Quixote is a pastiche of comic and romantic scenes, fast, colorful, with lots of quick set changes and displays of dancing prowess. The Moscow Festival Ballet, a 52-member touring company directed by former Bolshoi dancer Sergei Radchenko, danced their crisp, folk-inflected version of the 19th century ballet last Thursday (April 22) at Proctor’s in Schenectady.

Many versions of Don Quixote exist. In George Balanchine’s dance for New York City Ballet, the choreographer cast himself as the knight errant and made the Don and his illusions the center of the story. Moscow Festival Ballet, in contrast, relegates the foolish but endearing knight to the margins, using Quixote and his squire, Sancho Panza, as links between scenes and as comic relief.

The dance has a long lineage and has undergone many revisions. Don Quixote with original choreography by Petipa to music of Minkus premiered in 1869. In 1900, the Bolshoi staged a revised version by A. Gorsky, with new scenes and music tucked into Petipa’s libretto. Now, Yuri Vetrov has restaged Gorsky’s version, filling the stage with Spanish markers: red and yellow ruffled skirts, fans, tambourines, and a corps of six bullfighters who flip their red satin-lined capes every which way but loose.

Evgeni Doronin, tall and skeletal, danced the mostly mimed role of Don Q., expressing his chivalric longings with a hand to his heart and a lance pointed toward the heavens. Alexander Rupyshev was his rotund squire, clumsy, but vigorous, exploding in jester-like jumps and kicks. No sooner were they introduced than they set off upon their adventures.

The plot turns on the love between Kitri, daughter of the Innkeeper, and Basil, the barber. Kitri’s parents want her to marry the foppish Gamache, but Don Quixote, believing he is rescuing the maiden from danger, helps the lovers elope.

The action moves swiftly from the prologue in Don Quixote’s book-lined study to the square in Barcelona, and from there to a gypsy camp, a dark forest, a tavern, and, finally, the palace, where the parents relent, the lovers are wed, and everyone joins in a grand celebration.

Olga Grigorieva and Serzhan Kaukov were the lovers, Kitri and Basil. Grigorieva was pert and teasing as Kitri in their first duet, when they defy her parents. Maxim Vasiliev was quite the buffoon as the foppish Gamache.

A second couple, Olga Sizikh and Timur Kinikeev, danced a showy, space-covering turn as the Street Dancer and the Toreador. The choreography was Spanish, with a strong Russian accent. She was the bull, circling him as he swirled his cape.

Moscow Festival Ballet, founded in 1989, is composed of dancers from many regional companies. In Don Quixote, the women, including a strong and beautiful corps, seemed better trained and surer in their technique than the men.

In the wedding scene, for example, Grigorieva does a breathtaking pirouette and balances on one toe. She also excels in some delightful allegro footwork accompanied by her snapping fan. Sizikh’s forte is an extreme back bend in which her body takes the shape of a croquet wicket and her long hair brushes the floor.

Kinzikeev as the gold-clad Toreador was tight in the shoulders, which detracted from the line of his stylized flamenco arms. Kaukov also began somewhat stiffly, but warmed to his role. By the final wedding scene, he was performing huge leaps and towering jumps. He climaxed with a set of barrel turns that had his body parallel to the floor. Showy, indeed.

Classical ballets often have a “vision” scene in which the hero dreams of his idealized love. Don Quixote is the visionary, here, lost in a forest where a corps of lovely maidens and a feather-light sprite dance for him. This filmy white scene embodied the Don’s illusions.

In earthy contrast, the gypsy-camp scene presented a Coppelia-like puppet show in which a dancer pirouetted with flexed feet, a very Russian sword dance, and a booted male corps doing skillful folk turns. And, for broad comedy, back at the tavern, the Don joined Sancho, Gamache, the Innkeeper and his wife in some Rockette-style kick-lines.

We have only a few comic ballets among the classics, so it was good to see Don Quixote in this lively version. Still, I missed the windmills.

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