I have a confession to make. It’s a little ironic, because I’m a writer. Stories are my life and my livelihood.
I don’t love story ballets. Too much time in stately processions and miming instead of dancing, while the dancing that does occur interrupts the story. And then along comes Don Quixote, a story ballet about an obsession with stories. It has subplots and cinematic pacing that disguises rigorous classical technique with gorgeous choreography and laugh-out-loud humor.
Well there went my review. It usually takes me hundreds of words to describe my impressions of a ballet. But I could actually be even more brief: Don Quixote has everything ballet can offer.
Okay, I’ll unpack that statement a little bit. It is a story ballet, which almost always involves young lovers (usually forbidden). How else can you work in the gorgeous pas de deux? But the plot can get old. Don Quixote offers the traditional story line with the lovers Kitri and Basilio, but presents it through the lens of the deranged old gentleman, giving the story a twist.
Because the titular gentleman and his sidekick, Sancho Panza, are performed by actors (Tom Skerritt!) rather than dancers, they can express their roles more freely than the standardized movements of ballet-mime would allow. Meanwhile, the rest of the stage can be filled with secondary characters who, because they do not carry the weight of storytelling, can dance all the more.
With multiple centers of action on stage at any given time, Don Quixote is more engaging and energetic than most story ballets. A group of bullfighters may perform at center stage while children copy them, couples flirt off to one side, and Sancho Panza steals food from an inn on the other side of the stage. I loved following the romances of Kitri’s friends (What are you doing? Don’t look at her, pay attention to me.) and noticing Mercedes and her Torero quietly slipping upstairs while everyone else was distracted with Kitri’s attempts to escape her father.
It’s fun to try to keep up with everything going on, but the activity is not a cover for simplistic dance. I actually laughed out loud twice during the performance in sheer joy at the unbelievability of some of the things the dancers pulled off. Don Quixote was created by Marius Petipa, and underneath all the activity is the rigorous technique that classical ballet is built upon. Just watch this:
And that beautiful bit of dancing is as clinical as the choreography in Don Quixote gets. The ballet incorporates Spanish folk dance and lots of props to create a carefree atmosphere that belies the difficulty of the dance. Just try to count the number of times that dancers toss their props over their shoulders – and someone actually gets slapped in the face with a fish! The comedy really shines through in Don Quixote because its pratfalls and pranks are much broader than the wry insider humor that dance usually relies on.
I confess that I’m not crazy about story ballets, but Don Quixote makes me repent.