In a time when we, the entertainment audience, have become used to streaming music and movies-on-demand and not leaving our homes in order to experience many of the latest achievements in the arts, it’s still an event to attend the ballet.
Where else can we feel like guests at a wonderful party which has required a great number of people to work an even greater number of hours in an effort to ensure that we enjoy every moment?
In his notes to the program for "Don Quixote," which opened in Seattle on February 3, artistic director Peter Boal writes, "This is, without a doubt, the largest production Pacific Northwest Ballet has ever presented."
PNB’s presentation of the American premiere of "Don Quixote" is the engaging, energetic result of a series of artistic and international collaborations stretching back nearly 150 years, when the original production of the ballet debuted in Moscow in 1869. The timeline grows yet another 250-plus years if we start with the 17th-century publication of the novel by Cervantes which introduced the character of "Don Quixote" to the world.
In 2010, choreographer Alexei Ratmansky debuted his much-praised interpretation of "Don Quixote" with the Dutch National Ballet, with sets and costumes by Jérôme Kaplan. Ratmansky visited PNB during rehearsals for this production, and PNB received eight shipping containers packed with Kaplan’s expert design work.
From start to finish, the show is a pleasure to the eyes and ears. We are drawn in quickly by the impressive sets, which make full use of the breadth as well as the height of the stage. The colorful costumes are especially effective because of Kaplan’s use of detail, from the crisp lines of a bullfighter’s flashy costume to the small rip in the seam of Don Quixote’s well-worn coat.
Under the direction of PNB’s conductor Emil de Cou, the music is lively and upbeat. The principals, soloists, and corps de ballet work together smoothly to give a feeling of timelessness to the story of Don Quixote and the physical and emotional art of ballet.
Though the action begins in Don Quixote’s study, the ballet’s story focuses largely on a young woman whose father won’t give his consent for her to marry the man she loves. As Don Quixote and Sancho Panza venture out into the world, they happen upon the troubled family, and Don Quixote intervenes on their behalf.
This is a character-focused story ballet, but the importance is, of course, on the dance, as well as the music and the overall spectacle of the design. A dream sequence, for example, offers an opportunity to leave Don Quixote’s study and the Barcelona street scenes for an encounter with the fairy realm.
Seattle favorite Tom Skerritt plays the title role, with stage actor Allen Galli as Sancho Panza. Galli is a skilled physical comic, and he quickly wins the audience over with his playful gestures and expressions. Skerritt, too, is easygoing and likeable and gains our sympathy for his hero’s quest.
Having the roles of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza played by actors rather than dancers creates a clever aspect of casting as it pulls these two characters slightly outside of the action of the dance and gives the audience someone with whom to identify.
In the central roles of the young lovers, Kitri and Basilio, Carrie Imler and Batkhurel Bold make a graceful pairing. As the ballet progresses, their dances become more frequent and more physically challenging, and they received a standing ovation at the end of the evening.
Other standout performances come from Rachel Foster as Cupid and Jerome Tisserand as Espada the bullfighter. The lightness of Foster’s dance fits perfectly with the shimmering art-deco setting for the scene in which a sleeping Don Quixote has a long and beautiful vision. The easy boldness of Tisserand’s movements as he waves his red and black cape effectively conveys the skill and bravado of a bullfighter.
It makes for a unique yet shared experience to see and hear something that others might have seen and heard in a similar form nearly 150 years ago. If the opening weekend is any indication, this ballet will play to full houses throughout its two-week run.
With "Don Quixote," PNB offers audiences more than dance and music and acting and storytelling: we are offered an occasion to step outside of time and place into the world of art, where -- when we are lucky -- the whole gracefully becomes more than the sum of its many parts.