The dream sequence in Ajkun Ballet Theatre's "Don Quixote" at The Egg.
Every summer ballerina Chiara Ajkun pulls together band of 20 dancers from all over the globe for an intensive in Albany that aims to make a cohesive troupe out of them. For 19 years, the results have been mixed, mostly hovering at mediocre.
This year, with the Ajkun Ballet Theatre’s staging of excerpts from “Don Quixote,” which will be performed later this month in New York City, I could see an improvement. The change is that this year’s crop of dancers are more competent. Yet a few able dancers does not a company make. And watching Ajkun’s scaled back rendering of “Don Quixote” at The Egg proves that it takes more than adequate technique to stage an enchanting production.
It’s disappointing because “Don Quixote” is a favorite among ballet fans, It is fanciful and funny and chock full of fiery Spanish dances for gypsies and matadors. The story centers on one episode in the Cervantes' book in which lovers Kitri and Basil elope to evade Kitri’s mother who wishes to marry her off to an old, ugly, but rich fop. The wistful Don makes only cameo appearances, but is key to the happy ending.
Much of the story is lost because Ajkun zeros in on the dancing highlights of the ballet – mostly pas de deux for the main characters – and throws out the rest. This is a fine idea if the dancers are on the level with the world’s greatest. If not, the story is necessary to keep the audience engaged. Without all of the story details, the vital narrative is lost.
There were things that Ajkun could have done choreographically to help the audience to follow along. For example, the Don’s dream sequence seems to come out of the blue. Without seeing the Don in repose, asleep, no one can understand where these angelic ballerina came from and why the Don becomes obsessed with pursuing and ultimately helping Kitri.
There are also no sets or backdrops. The Spanish countryside must be imagined through the Ludwig Minkus score and the Spanish-style costumes – colorful red and black wear, fluttering fans and flamenco-like skirts. But without production trappings, the ballet forfeits another important captivating aspect.
Also diluted was the actual choreography, which is known for its tricks that bedazzle the audience. The dancing is better than normal. Yet Kylie Brown as Kitri and Kelvis Tafaj as Basil could not show off the ballet's fireworks because they have yet to reach its caliber.
Still, they were pleasant to watch as they poured passion into their duets. Both looked sharp, Brown in particular who nailed all the footwork flourishes. Tafaj’s all-important jumps hardly got off the ground, but his landings and poses were grand.
Analia Farfan and Alejandro Ulloa as Mercedes and Espada stood out among all the couples for their attack and confidence. Natalie Young as the Gypsy Queen was equally enchanting.
But in the end, Ajkun Ballet Theatre’s 2018 dancers look like a group of soloists trying to make an savory meal without all of the ingredients.