With dynamic dancing, comedic acting, and an eye for the philosophical, Carolina Ballet artistic director and choreographer Robert Weiss has created Don Quixote, his own interpretation of the classic 17th century novel that delighted audiences in 2008 and completely charmed the ballet’s Oct. 13th opening-night audience. This ballet will run through the end of the month, offering a variety of performance times to please everyone who should see this charmingly magical version of the story about a daydreaming romantic who envisions himself a knight, pursuing his truest love.
Through the years since Part One of the story was first published in 1605, choreographers have envisioned the story on the stage. In 1740, two chapters of the novel were choreographed for the ballet by Franz Hilverding of Austria, and that production was revived and put to new music in 1768. Marius Petipa’s version of Don Quixote was performed by the Ballet of the Imperial Bolshoi Theatre in 1869, and Alexander Gorsky revived the ballet once again and presented it in 1900. In the United States, the most recognized version of this popular performance was choreographed (and danced) by George Balanchine and first performed by the New York City Ballet in 1965 to the music of Nicolas Nabokov.
Robert Weiss’ depiction of the tale is a truncated version of the Quixote saga which utilizes the priest Pero Perez (Dan Callaway) to narrate his friend’s story, a conceit that works well in this narrative ballet. Callaway’s rich voice and ability to incorporate pregnant pauses that heighten the comedic effect that balances the magical realism backbone of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s masterpiece. Weiss’ decision to include the oral summary of the stories allows the audience to understand who the various people are that Quixote encounters in his travels.
The priest introduces his friend, Don Quixote de la Mancha, seen to the side of the stage lounging on a chair, reading a book. Soloist Yevegny Shlapko dances the lead role with the long, slim visage one associates with the Quixote character, and his humorous facial expressions reach over the edge of the stage even before his sidekick, Sancho Panza (Nikolai Smirnov) arrives. Smirnov has an eye-twinkling stage presence only surpassed by his dancing ability. He’s perfect for the earthy, realistic role as the optimistic farmer who cares for the bookish knight.
But not more perfect than Smirnov who amazes with his leaps, tumbles, and flips — the most energetic Sancho Panza this reviewer has ever seen. His slight dancer’s frame is padded to create the pudgy sidekick; and he plays the role to the hilt, teasing the audience with his side “comments” and responding to their laughter with even more expansive expressions and higher leaps and kicks. After seeing his interpretation of the role, it will be difficult to envision someone else playing Quixote’s squire.
The maiden love that Don Quixote dreams of and pursues throughout the epic is Dulcinea (Margaret Severin-Hansen), his princess and queen, the woman to whom he commits even though she’s entirely fictional. Severin-Hansen’s dancing is light and magical, perfect for the imaginary creature she portrays; and though her performance is technically perfect, one longs for a bit more robustness in her character, someone a tad rougher around the edges since she is, indeed, simply a figment of Quixote’s imagination. The part is danced with an endearing sweetness, as is indeed the very definition of her name; but one wants a little less of the ephemeral and a little more of the out-of-touch desirable woman who’ll never be part of Quixote’s world.
There are many enjoyable vignettes in this epic tale and opportunities to utilize dancers who have the ability to embody who are overtly down-to-earth characters. Soloists Randi Osetek and Alyssa Pilger do just that when portraying the Ladies of Easy Virtue. With wide and sweeping steps, expressive eyes, and a loose manner, they spin Quixote and Sancho on their heels into a frantic and funny pas de quartre.
Quixote continues his travels, through many love stories, such as Marcela (Amanda Babayan) and Grisostomo’s (Rammaru Shindo). It’s a gorgeously heartbreaking dance with impeccably sharp jumps and toe work.
But the most interesting of the love stories is the star-crossed lovers in the confusing vignette about Lucinda (Alicia Fabry), Cardineao (Miles Sollars-White), Dorotea (Lindsay Purrington) and Ferdinand (Adam Crawford Chavis). It is a tale of young lovers who agree to marriages to people they do not love, only to discover another they love more passionately than life itself. To confuse things more, their loves love the other’s. The confusion makes for an expressive and stunning combinations of pas de deux and pas de quatre that involve complicated passes and spins, leaps and arabesques that showcase some of the best soloists and dancers in the company. Sollars-White and Fabry especially shine in this segment.
After intermission, Quixote and Panza are treated to a wedding that is a strange combination of folk dances with Spanish and Russian influences, creating a diverse and joyous celebration populated by the rich Camacho (Marcelo Martinez), who is about to marry the fair Quiteria (Lilyan Vigo Ellis). Martinez and Vigo are well-partnered. Her arabesques are gorgeous; and their lifts and spiral turns, sinking to the floor are breathtaking.
No wedding is complete without some kind of tension or battle, and the fight scene in this one is choreographed West Side Story-style: two gangs who leap and challenge each other’s personal space. Don Quixote breaks up the fight and brings the rightful lovers together.
Once Quixote returns home, in tough shape and dying, he still whispers his beloved’s name, and Margaret Severin-Hansen returns to the stage to dance one last fantasy for the romantic knight. It is a sensitive and compassionate dance that breathes a happy ending into the knight’s final breath.
Robert Weiss’ Don Quixote is a tale inspired by a massive piece of literature, yet Weiss has managed to retain the intimacy of the vignettes of love and relationships. Quixote might tilt at windmills, but the Carolina Ballet does its best work when connecting with the story behind the inspiration for the dance and tells it with one intermission. Bravo to Weiss for his stellar interpretation of this classic tale!
SECOND OPINION: Oct. 12th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/don-quixote/Event?oid=5065598.
The Carolina Ballet presents Robert Weiss’ DON QUIXOTE at 2 and 8 p.m. Oct. 15, 2 p.m. Oct. 16, 2 and 8 p.m. Oct. 22, 2 p.m. Oct. 23, 2 and 8 p.m. Oct. 29, and 2 p.m. Oct. 30 in A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.
TICKETS: $30.14-$78.14 (including fees), except $20 per ticket for college students with ID.
Carolina Ballet Box Office: 919-719-0900 or https://www.carolinaballet.com/get-tickets.
Ticketmaster: 800-982-2787 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115203/836166.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-719-0900 or http://www.carolinaballet.com/get-tickets/group-sales/.
SHOW: https://www.carolinaballet.com/program/don-quixote, https://www.facebook.com/events/957106651077981/, and http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/event/don-quixote-7068.
PRESENTER: http://www.carolinaballet.com/, https://www.facebook.com/CarolinaBallet, https://twitter.com/carolinaballet, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carolina_Ballet.
Robert Weiss (Carolina Ballet artistic director and choreographer): http://www.carolinaballet.com/pages/staff-directory-entry/robert-weiss (Carolina Ballet bio) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Weiss_%28choreographer%29 (Wikipedia).
Dawn Reno Langley is a Durham, NC-based author who writes novels, poetry, children’s books, and nonfiction books on many subjects, as well as theater, music, and dance reviews. She is also a writer, editor, writing coach at Reno’s Literary Services of Durham. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/. To read more of her writings, click http://dawnrenolangley.blogspot.com/ and http://poetryandgardening.blogspot.com/.