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Balanchine's Don Quixote

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No posts? Nobody went? I looked at the first weekend, but while I'm trying to find some adequate words for my thoughts, here's a link to the thread where we discussed this ballet when it was performed in Edinburgh last August, in less favorable circumstances, as it turns out:


But more to the moment, according to the casting in the printed program, there's only one more opportunity to see Heather Ogden as Dulcinea, on Friday the 22nd at 7:30; Xiao Nan Yu's performances in this immense role - I'm talking import rather than length - were quite creditable and worth seeing, but Ogden's were even more efffective than what I saw her do in Scotland.

Absent Ogden, another highlight of casting for me would be Chan Han Goh in the Act II Pas de Deux Mauresque, which she will dance this evening, the 21st, and Saturday evening, the 23rd.

I have never seen the NBoC before, and I found it very able, but these two dancers, who not incidentally have worked with Suzanne Farrell, stood out.

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I am going tomorrow, so no report here yet.

Sadly it doesn't look as though we'll see Ogden - I think it's Tanya Howard tomorrow, I can't remember now.

The reviews have been so mixed I"m honestly not sure if I'm looking forward to it or not (I've never seen Balanchine's Don Q). Nevertheless, I figure it's a piece of ballet history that will be good to see.

I'll write a report after the show.


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Attended the performance today.

I had a ticket, rescheduled from my regular series. My two daughters however did not have tickets, and I was banking on Rush seats. We arrived at the box office at 11:30 (last show this was PLENTY of time), but no more regular rush. I could get subscriber rush (or some such thing) at $80 per seat. Regular rush seats are $30. I hadn't really planned on shelling out THAT much for an afternoon, so one daughter went off happily for a sunny afternoon alone in the city.

I remember reading that NBOC had given out free tickets somewhere along the line - would that have been for today's performance? Hmm. That on top of the administration deciding to re-categorize my season's seat to a higher dollar value (with no prior notification) has left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth.

On to the show.

As indicated in an earlier post, I had never seen this version of Don Q before. I did, however, spend an entire semester studying Don Q in Madrid a number of years ago as a college student. This version of Don Q is a nice attempt to be true to the characters in the novel, and I appreciated that. However, if one is looking for lots of dancing this isn't the best place to start. This is a story told through drama, dance and music.

The main characters today did well, as one would expect them to. Tanya Howard was lovely as Dulcinea in all her forms, to the extent that my 16 year old was impressed (and this is actually saying quite a lot). The Divertissments (sp?) in Act 2 were lovely and quite enjoyable. Let's see...the young dancers from the school (Act 1) did a wonderful job; the staging (particularly Act 1) was also quite good.

In the end, I think perhaps this isn't a summertime ballet - it's better placed in the fall or winter when one is content to be indoors to watch a wonderful story unfold and not feel guilty thinking of the wonderful weather outside......


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OK - here’s my two cents on the production. I was going to write earlier but as usual work-load ate up all my time. I was there for opening night as I wanted to see and form an opinion on my own before our own home-grown critics weighed in. I already knew what the American critics thought of the production so my expectations were already coloured by that and I was prepared to be, at the least, underwhelmed. I had a doozy of a question ready for Michael Crabb at the pre-ballet talk, but unfortunately he was cut short by politics - the government coughed up some money and everyone had to be publically grateful for it. Enough said. I was going to ask Crabb, as a critic himself, if he thought our ballerinas suffered so much criticism from the American press last year because some of them just couldn’t get past the image of their own icon, Suzanne Farrell, as Dulcinea. Reading those reviews I wondered if any dancer could have competed with that - well, he might have shot down my theory but I thought it a good question anyway. As for the ballet itself, it certainly isn’t what you would call “light” entertainment and anyone coming to see the traditional Don Q must have wondered if they were in the right theatre. It’s dark, it’s dense, and in many ways, it’s fascinating. So much depends on the dancer playing Don Q - can he get past the footlights the man’s belief in the goodness and nobility of man, his deep and passionate love of Dulcinea and his even more deep and passionate love of God? We have to feel his pain, his confusion and in the end his rapture. Tall order for any non-dancing role and I’d like to say our own Lazlo Surmeyan managed this very well - a role to grow into indeed. I’ve always thought of Farrell as a “cool” dancer - certainly not a cold one, that’s not what I mean - but with an almost otherworldly detachment. And that, I think, is what Balanchine was showing with his Dulcinea. This wonderful, beautiful dream of perfection that was just out of his reach. Heather Ogden managed to give us a hint of this and I would like to see her in the role a few years from now because I think she’s still just scratching the surface. There was no question at all about her dancing abilities particularly in the 2nd act solo that just skimmed along the stage. During the performance I kept thinking about Balanchine and that what was happening on stage told me a great deal about this man - where he came from, what he believed in, what he strived for. I expected the music to be banal - after all, isn’t that what all the critics have told us? We could wish, perhaps, that Balanchine had collaborated with one the great composers of the time on the score, but this one serves it’s purpose well enough and even manages to build to a powerful end. In any case, it’s a step up from Minkas and Drigo! If I sound much too enthusiastic about this Don Q, let me say I did find the narrative and pacing at times draggy - I wanted things to zip along at a quicker pace and there are definite problems with the structure of the ballet. I wanted more dancing and much sooner then it actually came. How Balanchine could have worked in more dancing I don’t know - I just wanted it! The sets and costumes are striking and our own National Ballet workshops have to be commended in their execution. I agree with Crabb’s observation that this production needs to be seen two or three times to get a better overview of what Balanchine is trying to say and I hoped to see Tanya Howard do the role but again, work - dreadful work, nixed those plans.

One thing I should mention, I had a non-ballet friend with me on Friday and she found the production absolutely brilliant. She was glad to have heard Michael Crabb’s comments prior to prepare her for what she was about to see - especially the final procession which can be overpowering in it’s affirmation of Christian belief. Crabb mentioned that audiences sometimes “tittered” during this section but I found, viewed as a whole, the ballet prepares you for what is coming.

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Thank you so much for your review! I so wish I could have gotten to Toronto, but the weather systems and planes make it a no-go. I do hope to see this ballet someday, and hopefully it will be with Heather Ogden, a few years down the line.

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I've just remember something else. During the curtain calls Farrell was, of course, brought out for her share of the applause but she left the stage rather abuptly and it seemed to me she was very emotional. Did anyone else notice that?

To the best of my knowledge, Farrell doesn't usually come out for curtain calls at Don Q performances. I hope she got a few "bravas" before her abrupt exit. Thanks for the great report, Noreen.

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I thought there was a surge in the applause when Farrell appeared for a curtain call, but FF is right; in my experience, she rarely appears in such a situation.

Anyway, I found some of Michael Crabb's remarks very insightful and would like to share my notes from a couple of his talks over the first weekend. (It took me a while to get his start time right, 45 minutes before curtain; getting there an hour before curtain isn't too early. The time is printed on the ticket, but in the smallest type there.) He didn't say exactly all the same things each time, and these are only from my own sketchy notes and don't give a comprehensive representation of his talks, which ran half an hour. Mainly, I tried to write down what was most interesting to me, although Crabb also had a lot of good stuff for the benefit of the less initiated:

We should thank Lenin and Marx that Balanchine, and thus his Don Quixote, are here. If it weren't for the Russian revolution, he wouldn't have come. Balanchine pushed classical ballet in new directions, so ballet looked very different. Is his Don quixote a throwback? The old Russian version is very entertaining...

Is Don Quixote mad? Madness is a social construct... The core of Balanchine's Don Quixote is a serious one, it's not all happy, happy: This man keeps trying because he wants the unattainable woman, he strives for the sublime unattainable... He is inspired - some might argue misled - by his reading of medieval tales of chivalry to seek redemption by venturing into the world to right wrongs and defend the innocent.

Artists as outside society. Don Quixote was spurned and bullied. How represent his fantasy? The Don was an old man, not a 'dancer' role. So how to make him a central figure? Balanchine also lacked the idealized woman for that role, until Suzanne Farrell came along. He had made his reputation stripping away excess. For him, dance was justified in itself. This was a revolution. So what was Balanchine on about with this ballet? True, he had made a Nutcracker, and A Midsummer Night's Dream.

What's fantasy and what is in the naturalistic world? Balanchine throws the audience member off.

Don Quixote is abused by people he tried to help. There are parallels with Balanchine's own story, but you see what you see, including some symbolism.

Some of it is the story of a 61-year-old man and a 19-year-old ballerina... Early on, she dries his feet with her hair, an image of Mary Magdelene...

It's really anything but a big 19th Century ballet; it has a modern score, and many dark, disturbing moments. Modern steps, though. It's the modern rendering of an old concept.

Dulcinea's theme is an old Russian folk theme Balanchine heard in childhood and gave to Nicholas Nabokov.

This is the Canadian premiere. No previous Balanchine ballet at NBoC has been a dramatic one. Suzanne Farrell wrote an account of the making of Don Quixote in the house program.

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Some of it is the story of a 61-year-old man and a 19-year-old ballerina... Early on, she dries his feet with her hair, an image of Mary Magdelene...

Actually, that's Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. And while we're at it, the ballet made a lot of people uncomfortable by appearing to be "the near occasion of sin" when it was performed by Balanchine and Farrell. Maybe it would read differently with other interpreters, but it still felt that way when Richard Rapp danced the Don.

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