Live review | Joffrey Ballet: Don Quixote
The ballet Don Quixote, first performed at Moscow’s Bolshoi in 1869, has a new incarnation at the Joffrey Ballet choreographed after the common (Gorsky/Petipa) variations by former Bolshoi dancer .
No sacred cow among the classics—among dance writers, I think I enjoy it more than most—Possokhov’s cuts to the score (by Ludwig Minkus) and story (loosely taken from two chapters of Cervantes’s novel) will have only the purest of purists up in arms. Most of what you expect to see in a Don Quixote is left intact, from Act I’s punchy dances, which bleed into and out of sunny crowd scenes; to the Don’s misty reverie of perfect, pale ladies dressed in pretty, pale tutus to match; to the grand wedding pas de deux, a show-off showpiece and favorite at galas; to broad antics from the Don (Fabrice Calmels, nicely tuned) and Sancho Panza (Derrick Agnoletti, slapstick silly). A pause during Act II, before the wedding, is empty and long enough to be a second intermission, but up until it and afterward this Don trucks along.
There are some surprises here, things that you don’t expect to see in a Don Q. The Don’s horse, Rocinante, is a giant, locally made puppet operated by two men (Shane Urton and Alberto Velazquez on opening night), so it can dance a little bit between trotting on- and offstage. There are two brief flying sequences: One turns the Don’s ill-fated encounter with windmill blades into more of a hair-raising event than usual, and the other lends Amore (a cupid character danced by resident pixie Yumelia Garcia) a glamorous exit.
And there are questions. If updating Don Q and making it family-friendly, why go overboard with the slaps of women’s asses? (Sure, it’s a ballet from the late 19th century, but there seem to be more here than usual, not less.) Why subject Matthew Adamczyk, one of the most talented actors in this company, whose gift is projecting nuances all the way to the back row, to the embarrassment of this Don’s one-dimensional Gamache? The intended betrothed of our heroine, Kitri—much to her dismay, as she instead fancies the sexy barber, Basilio—Gamache is here sketched as a fey priss as crudely as Mickey Rooney played Japanese as Mr. Yunioshi.
The production’s new costumes (Travis Halsey), projections (Wendall K. Harrington) and sets (Jack Mehler) are handsome independently but, combined, their palettes ricochet in strange directions. To a stage full of warm, deep reds, golds and oranges, Mercedes (Alexis Polito) enters in shiny, jet black and shocking pink. The Act I, Scene 2 backdrop is vibrant…until the stage lighting comes up and nearly washes it out. Harrington incorporates Doré-style etchings, which are beautiful, but they’re stylistically marooned and too somber for the atmosphere onstage.
Which itself is a mixed bag. Carlos Quenedit, a Cuban dancer who defected to Mexico and for a while was a member of Miami City Ballet, is guesting as Basilio for this Don Q’s premiere run (through October 23, with casting variations, at the). Clean, fluent, strong and unmannered, his classical technique is of a caliber too rarely seen in Chicago; catch one of his remaining performances if you can. As Kitri, Victoria Jaiani is miscast, too weak for the role’s pyrotechnics and clumsy with the torsions of Spanish dance in her upper body. Some dancers’ mugging is incessant and tiresome, while others enter blank-faced or look worried and unsure.
Under the baton of Scott Speck, the Chicago Sinfonietta has fun with a dancerly reading of Minkus’s bold, brassy tunes.