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[Ballet] One tough ballet

Don Quixote‘s not easy, but NBT pulls it off

Geri Jeter

For the record, Don Quixote is one tough ballet. Not for its cheerful and silly plot, which resolves in a giant wedding scene at a local castle, but for the character shifts and technical marathon it represents for the lead ballerina, along with the ballet’s large casting requirements.

The lead ballerina is not only onstage in each act, but she must also portray three unique characters—a lively and somewhat bratty Spanish village girl; the idyllic vision of womanhood dreamed by a romantic old man; and the adult bride. For this reason, some critics have compared the ballerina role in Don Quixote to the soprano’s role of Violetta in the opera La Traviata, another tour de force for a lead performer. The role is considered so demanding that, in 1869, when the Bolshoi first performed the full-length version, two separate dancers performed the lead role of Kitri and her counterpart, Dulcinea, in the dream sequence. Today, most modern stagings are based on a version performed by the same company in 1900, which gave the part to one lead dancer.

The ballet is equally challenging for the corps. It has to transition from high-spirited Spanish villagers to a serene and pure classical corps in the vision scene, then to grandly classical celebrants at the wedding-party finale. Additionally, the ballet has many secondary and character roles that tax the staffing capabilities of even large companies.

The plot is loosely based on the adventures of the Spanish nobleman Don Quixote; however, the focus is on the romance between two minor characters from the novel—the barber Basilio and Kitri, the daughter of the local innkeeper. Lorenzo, Kitri’s father, wants Kitri to marry a wealthy man. She is having none of it, and the plot revolves around the lovers’ struggles to be together. Don Quixote nobly intervenes on their behalf, and they all live happily ever after.

Choreographer Elizabeth Wistrich last staged the work for Nevada Ballet Theatre in 2001 and has said that in the six intervening years “the company has improved so much.” The improvement is so pronounced that for this run, the company was able to field three separate casts for the principal roles of Kitri and Basilio, and two distinct sets for the secondary assignments. And unlike most companies, which have one “first-tier” group for opening night and another to spell the stars, Nevada Ballet Theatre has such a deep bench that audience members were guaranteed a good cast at all performances.

Each Kitri was technically proficient, yet the performers varied in their interpretations. Kitri’s character is defined in Act I, and this is where the differences were most pronounced. Elena Shokhina played Kitri as a sweetly determined young lady, clear in her purpose. She wants to marry Basilio (Baris Erhan), so she sees her father’s lack of cooperation as just another obstacle to her happiness. Yoomi Lee, on the other hand, was a more childlike Kitri. When forbidden by her father to see her lover (Kyudong Kwak), she pouted prettily, stamped her feet and stopped just shy of a tantrum. Shokhina and Lee’s Kitri wants one thing—marriage to Basilio. Racheal Hummel-Nole’s Kitri has another agenda. Yes, she wants to marry Basilio (Zeb Nole), but she is excited by all the trouble and drama.

For the vision scene, all the Kitris embodied the pure classicism needed for the moment. However, in the wedding scene, the character differences reemerged, this time as mirror images of their Act I characterizations. Shokhina and Lee exhibited bravura technique—Shokhina executing heart-stopping balances and Lee setting speed records with her piqué turns and double pirouettes in the fouettés.

Hummel-Nole was more restrained, displaying gentle femininity in the solo variation with lovely Spanish-infused shoulder movements and delicate pointe work.

In the secondary assignments, Edilsa Armendariz and Jennifer Fesler charmed the audience as Kitri’s friends; in contrast, Cathy Colbert and Melissa Rose Sharples were real party girls—think bachelorette nights at Coyote Ugly. The elegant Zeb Nole and Rebecca Brimhall, and the fiery duo of Gregori Arakelyan and Alissa Verbena Dale (who managed to give technically difficult double attitude turns a sensuous slink) played the roles of Mercedes and the toreador Espada.

In the many character parts, the company was able to field a dream team. Jay Kim gave the slightly dotty Don Quixote a dignity sometimes lacking in other productions, and Paolo Manso de Sousa as Sancho Panza fully explored the comedic design of his character. As Lorenzo, Kelly Roth also displayed a flair for comedy. And John Surdick managed to make the foppish Gamache a sympathetic and likable character.

Don Quixote

****

Nevada Ballet Theatre

October 5–7

Judy Bayley Theatre, UNLV

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