Above: Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancers Carla Körbes and Karel Cruz in Alexei Ratmansky’s Don Quixote.
Raise your castanets—the Don has arrived in Seattle. After much fanfare, the anticipated American premiere of Don Quixote, choreographed for PNB by Alexei Ratmansky, opened last weekend at McCaw Hall. A visual explosion of costume and color, the story isn’t anything new, but the spirited dancers and humorous acting elevated the classical choreography, while principal dancers Carla Körbes and Karel Cruz gave technically strong, flawless performances.
Set in Barcelona, the story (plucked from Miguel de Cervantes’ epic 1000+ page tome) follows the wealthy but neurotic Don (played by notable actor Tom Skerritt) and his buffoonish squire Sancho Panza (local stage presence Allen Galli) as they become entangled in the drama of two lovers fighting for permission to marry. The lovers, Kitri and Basilio (Carla Körbes and Karel Cruz, respectively) run off together after Kitri’s father refuses his blessing and insists his daughter marry the wealthy but effeminately laughable neighbor Gamache (played with much panache by Jonathan Porretta). Amid the townsfolk’s holiday revelry (which includes drinking and dancing in the square) and Don Quixote’s fantastical visions, Kitri and Basilio sneak back into town where they are discovered, and the young woman faces the forced marriage to the foolish Gamache. Basilio comes up with a clever plan trick Kitri's father into approving a union between him and her, and the Don becomes mixed up in the procession.
Körbes and Cruz were unquestionably radiant, both in stage presence and dancing. The newly dark-haired ballerina was feisty in her performance, tossing flirty smiles to the audience, swishing her hips and hiding seductively behind a red fan. Her dancing was sharp and lively, with a bevy of pirouettes and exquisite leaps, as well as some impressive balances throughout the entire three-act show. At the end of the third act, Körbes performed a breathtaking series of at least a dozen swift fouetté turns with seeming ease and steady grace. Cruz, with his infamous long legs, brought proud masculinity to Körbes’ feminine presence. His strength was visible with high lifts, jumps and kicks; there was prolonged energy in his every move.
Another couple, Mercedes (the gorgeous Maria Chapman) and Espada (Batkhurel Bold) proved standouts as well. Chapman was fiery (both en pointe and in character shoes), snapping her wrists, leaping in linear grand jetes and sweeping balançoires. Her incredibly flexible spine allowed for stunning backbends and extended port de bras. Bold’s role as a torero (at times with a snapping cape) was tamer and a bit more restrained than his usual parts—although his dancing was strong, the choreography begged for his usual extraordinary leaps and jumps.
Skerritt and Galli brought humor to each scene; the former dressed in ancient armor, charging around the stage with a gigantic lance, and the latter constantly wandering off in search of food and drink, garnering laughs when he attempted a few awkward pas de chats. The actors played off one another, and Skerritt perfectly embodied the grandiose gestures of the confidently self-deluded Quixote in Cervantes’ work.
The costumes and sets (Jérôme Kaplan) captured the flair and vibrance of a hot Spanish holiday. Brightly colored capes, skirts, mantillas, fans, ruffled dresses and tutus, and yes, there were castanets. The bright azure sky of the village square made the reds and yellows pop. In Don Quixote’s vision, horned, monkey-like monsters and life-size cacti with bright red thorns leap and spin around the stage amidst lightning. Juxtaposed with the enchanting willow-lined hollow where a corps of white-clad cupids and dryads danced. Rachel Foster gave a charming performance as the gold-winged cupid; her movements were loose and playful, the quick-footed traveling across the stage giving image to the flitting of wings.
While the principals and soloists shone, the corps faded behind the solo performances. As the townsfolk their acting was fine, and the group performances were skillful, but not as energetic or bold when contrasted with the duets and solos. The last act dragged slightly, with repeated solos and duets by Körbes and Cruz, and others, but the dancers’ indefatigable performances grew more complex and energetic with each pass.
Despite these small, almost unnoticeable, factors, Don Quixote was a brilliant theatrical and balletic success. More than just another storybook ballet, it was truly a production, with lively Spanish-infused classical choreography that brought just the right amount of spice to this year’s season at PNB.
Don Quixote runs through Feb. 12. Tickets here.
Photos Angela Sterling, courtsey of PNB.