Comic arch

Pratfalls accompany the leaps in PNB's winsome Quixote.


Opera House, Seattle Center, 292-ARTS, $15-$115 7:30 p.m. Thurs.-Fri., 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sat., 1:30 p.m. Sun. ends Nov. 18

USUALLY WHEN someone talks about classical ballet, they're thinking about a tragedy like Swan Lake, or at least something with a significant threat before the happy ending, like Sleeping Beauty. Don Quixote is the exception that proves the rule—a comedy (despite the title) in which youth wins out over age and the poor but handsome boy gets the girl.

Don Quixote is set in a balletic version of Spain, where the women all have flowers behind their ears and snap their fans like weapons. But underneath the spit curls and smoldering, there is an affinity between ballet technique and Spanish dance. The Spanish back is more deeply arched than the ballet standard and the head turns more sharply, but the proudly vertical torso and crisp footwork are much the same. The usual challenges of ballet technique are heightened by this Spanish influence, making everything seem faster and bigger.

Marius Petipa, choreographer of the 1869 production of Don Quixote and the architect of classical ballet, excelled at making dance phrases that developed and extended the basic vocabulary, almost like musical 鴵des. PNB's version of the work, staged by Susan Jones and Kevin McKenzie of American Ballet Theater, includes many of the original variations, exploring the myriad possibilities of stepping, jumping, and turning, but it also has broad comic sequences full of pratfalls and missed connections. By the end of the evening, we have seen everything from garters to guitars being tossed through the air and the classic "tap on someone's shoulder then move to their other side" routine (rather like a danced version of "Who's on first?").

Pretty Kitri loves the barber Basilio, but her father Lorenzo would rather she marry the wealthy fop Gamache. They manage to trick the father and thwart the suitor, with some assistance from the unhappy title character. Unlike in the Cervantes novel, the don here is mostly just a plot device in the story of the two young lovers—which is itself an excuse for miles of juicy dancing, stuffed with exciting technical tricks and virtuosity.

On opening night, Kaori Nakamura charged onto the stage, nailing her first sequence of turns and jumps, especially Kitri's signature leap—with the spine curved and one bent leg stretching back so her foot almost touches her head. The role of Kitri demands incredible control, but Nakamura was able to translate that power into sensuality. Valeri Hristov showed a kind of nonchalant skill as Basilio, flirting with every girl in the village. Often in these bravura roles, the emphasis is on flashy tricks rather than fine details, but Hristov not only zipped through his requisite grande tours, he included a set of beautifully calibrated turns in attitude, sliding into an effortless finish. Olivier Wevers also gave an outstanding performance as the spurned suitor.

Don Quixote is sometimes referred to as a warhorse, but as an evening-length comedy, it offers a ballet company a wide variety of roles for all levels of performers and a technical benchmark to set themselves against. And it gives its audiences a similar anchor.

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