Skylar Brandt and Herman Cornejo star in American Ballet Theater's "Don Quixote." (Photo by Rosalie O’Connor)
There is no ballet more charming than American Ballet Theatre’s version of “Don Quixote.”
As seen on Saturday afternoon at the Metropolitan Opera House, it’s funny, flashy and fast-moving and a tonic for that ails us.
As staged by Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie and Susan Jones after the Russian original, the classic is based on a snippet from the epic novel about a dreamy chivalrous soul who desires to make all things right with the world. The Don finds meaning in aiding the impetuous lovers Kitri and Basilio, the true stars of the show, whose romance is foiled by her father, Lorenzo, who promises to marry her off to the wealthy but ungainly Gamache.
This sets up an amusing adventure for the cast through Seville, its countryside (dubbed a “gypsy camp,” a term which should probably be reconsidered by ballet directors worldwide), into a tavern and back to the city where the sweethearts, after a little trickery, marry.
This is a perfect ballet on many levels — because it combines gorgeous sets and costumes with a story line with romance and humor. But mainly, "Don Quixote" wins admiration for its breath-taking dancing throughout (not just the finale) that set viewers aback.
Let’s start with Sklyar Brandt as Kitri and Herman Cornejo as Basilio. They are ideal as the delightfully defiant lovers who take Lorenzo and Gamache on a chase that the Don and his faithful assistant Sancho Panza stumble upon.
Cornejo is a superb partner – strong, attentive and invested – able to hoist Brandt high with one arm, time and again, with one fluid flourish.
He’s there for Brandt who is supremely capable in her own right, bounding through high kicks, a stream of steady balances, precise pointe work and impressive double fouettes.
The two are obviously relaxed and having fun exchanging kisses in these playful, but very demanding roles that include the most technically difficult pas de deux in classical ballet.
Also impressive was Cassandra Trenary as both Mercedes and the Queen of the Dryads. She holds all eyes with her seductive abilities to enchant in both roles.
“Don Quixote” is, however, a ballet made for men to show off their machismo, making room for the virile toreadors and campers, led by the amazingly dynamic Elwince Magbitang who flies in tour de force spinning jumps. And then there is Espana, the golden matador, danced by Gabe Stone Shayer, personifying bravado.
Conductor Charles Barker absorbs the mood, vigorously leading the orchestra in the grandiose Ludwig Minkus score.
For those who have never seen a ballet, ABT’s “Don Quixote” is the ideal introduction. No ballet is more appealing.
Therefore, I am forever grateful to McKenzie, who prepares to step down from his leadership role at ABT, for bringing it to the stage. I know it will endure.