Thursday, February 16, 2012: A Different Don

Don Quixote ballet

Don Quixote (Milan Boček) yearns for his true love (Alina Nanu as Kitri) in the State Opera Ballet production

A Different Don Quixote

The State Opera Ballet’s Don Quixote may be a little different from the original The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, Cervantes’ novel which we all know and love (or at least studied excerpts of in high school). Regardless, the Ballet’s production is jaw-dropping amazing.

Different, how? Firstly, the original novel was published in 1605 and 1615.

The State Opera Ballet’s Don Quixote was choreographed for its Prague premiere tonight (Feb 16, 2012) and Feb 19 by Jaroslav Slavický, Kateřina Slavická, and Hana Vláčilová, after original choreography, premiering in Moscow in 1869, by the legendary Marius Petipa and Alexander Gorsky.

Second, the novel rambles along a very long trail of adventures and misadventures, as Don Quixote searches for his love, Dulcinea. The State Opera Ballet’s version focuses instead on a love story between the characters Kitri and Basil. Acting as the seconds in this love sparring and parrying duel are the characters Mercedes and Espada.

Milan Boček, Jurij Kolva

But his intentions are honorable: Milan Boček as Don Quixote, Jurij Kolva as Sancho Panza

Third, while both the fictional and the ballet dons are – perhaps – senile old men, the State Opera’s is still-dashing, elegant, and very tall. He also tilts at windmills, but functions mainly as a kind of guide who creates the structure for the two couples’ love stories.

Therefore, this don doesn’t do the principle dancing, appearing more as a somber, lurking, and somewhat sad character, the creator of illusion and dream sequences rather than real-life action and adventure. The incredible leaps, pirouettes (spins), and flying footwork is left for the “younger” folks. In the dress rehearsal Feb 14, they were Alina Nanu as Kitri and Ondřej Vinklat as Basil; Zuzana Hvízdalová as Mercedes and Viktor Kocian as Espada.

And what dancing! This is a classic epic of dance, the full treatment without any abridgments: from bourrés (tiny, tiny steps to travel across the stage) to changement de pieds (jumping high and switching the feet around) to fouetté turns (multiple spins on one leg, at the same time moving up and down) to fish dives (that startling leap when the ballerina runs and jumps into her lover’s arms – ending with her pointed feet in the air and her face – with a big smile – near the floor).

Zuzana Hvízdalová as Mercedes, Viktor Kocian as Espada

Zuzana Hvízdalová as Mercedes, Viktor Kocian as Espada in Don Quixote

The sets and costumes by Josef Jelínek add just the right amount of gorgeous color and verve without being brash; and the lush music by Ludwig Minkus (1826-1917) is performed admirably by the State Opera orchestra, with Václav Zahradník conducting.

Cervantes’ Don Quixote may be the perfect way to spend a snowy February night, along with a blanket and a mug of hot chocolate. But for a post-Valentine’s evening filled with color, passion, romance and thrilling dance, nothing less than the State Opera Ballet’s Don Quixote will do. — oo

– Mary Matz

The State Opera Ballet’s production of Don Quixote premieres Feb 16 and 19, with additional regular performances also on Feb 19 and Mar 4, Apr 12, May 10, and June 27.

Photo Credits: Miroslav Setnička

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