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Arizona Ballet performance of Don Quixote

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Ballet Arizona with the Phoenix Symphony

Artistic Director: Ib Anderson

Choreography: Olga Evreinoff after Petipa

Scenery and Costumes: Louisville Ballet

Lighting: Michael Korsch

February 15-17

The demands of a full-length Don Quixote on its principals are superhuman – for Kitri, the challenges include repeated 1-footed pointework, including diagonal hops from stage left followed stage right, grande allegro exemplified by the signature "Spanish" grande jete, and merciless Act III fouette turns; for Basilio, there are huge leaps and multiple turns. For both, there are the virtuoso timing and connection demanded of the partnering, the stage presence required to fill these outsize roles as well as hold our attention through three acts, and the physical skill, acting, musical, and endurance tests presented over the course of 2 1/2 hours.

The Arizona Ballet’s Paula Hartley and Astrit Zenjati, performing with the company at Phoenix Symphony Hall February 15th and 16th, fully inhabited these iconic roles, and doing so, charmed, delighted, astonished, and had the audience at their feet. In this production, by Olga Evreinoff, Ms. Hartley was a strong-willed, darling prankster. A pretty woman in a village filled with pretty women, Ms. Hartley’s Kitri is the flirt whom all the men love because she is more fun, more clever, and more generous of heart than anyone else. Both women and men rally to her, as she instigates games, pranks, and issues challenges. The bravura demands, which she met and conquered, were the natural extention of an exuberant, outsized personality, whose joie de vivre exploded in dance.

Always a strong, speedy, and clean dancer, Ms. Hartley never flagged. Indeed, in Act III she came out as though newly energized, excited, as the plot demanded, by her romance – although, as the dancer she is, no doubt she was in truth justifiably energized by the prospect of sharing with us one of the most the famous ballerina solos. With her comedic timing and acting skills, her skillful use of the fan and her eyes, her athleticism, start to finish, there was nothing wanting in her interpretation of this ballet icon.

Mr. Zejnati similarly shone, with his signature soft landings and effortless turns, as well as stage craft and acting suitable to the role. Stopping just short of cad, he flirted and showed off, just as Basilio should. Mr. Zejnati and Ms. Hartley continue to be one another’s most attractive, best-matched partners. Their classic proportions are enhanced by similar and affectationless technique. In addition, they demonstrated a pleasing congruence of characterization, with their good-natured flirtations and high spirits leaving us with no question that these two belong together.

The Company, individually and collectively, continues to impress. Kanako Inayoshi, showed a new side of herself as Mercedes. A statuesque woman, Ms. Inayoshi has an inherently gracious, regal presentation with a gorgeous line. Always pretty, she has become frankly beautiful. In this role, in addition, she showed us a sparkly, sexy side, with a nice edge – one that suggests she has in her a wonderful Black Swan.

The duo of Tzu-Chia Huang and Michelle Mahowald was also particularly enjoyable, with the two looking almost like sisters. We had several views of them together, paired as Kitri’s friends and bridesmaids. There is just enough similarity in their general build, as well as timing, musicality and attack, to create a pleasing symmetry, with enough differences, in port de bras, for instance, to keep it interesting. Michelle Mahowald, who was recently at the University of Indiana, is a newer, most welcome addition to the company. She has a beautiful port de bras and a lighter-than-air quality to her jumps, as well as stage presence to spare.

Dancing the next day in these roles was the duo of Lisbet Campanioni and Heather Haar. Perhaps seeing Heather Haar in the same part as Ms. Mahowald over-emphasized in my mind the similarity of their technique, particularly their use of the arms; be that as it may, I look forward to an opportunity to see the two of them together. Ms. Haar is emerging as a real performer, as well as a wonderful technician. I can still recall in my mind’s eye seeing her in this season’s Nutcracker, where, as Chinese Tea, she rested her chin in her hand, then turned to the audience and flashed us an unexpectedly dazzling smile that left us wanting more.

Another dancer we can look forward to seeing more of is newcomer Sasha Edelman. Ms. Edelman, who trained at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, has the secure placement and refined technique one expects in a more seasoned dancer. Throughout the season, she has commanded attention when on stage, even when buried in the corps, as in Nut’s "Snow."

Among the men, standouts included Roman Zararov and Joeseph Cavanaugh. Mr. Zararov, another new addition, was a convincing Gypsy Leader. Still very young, he shows dramatic promise, as well as beautifully articulated feet and legs and effortless leaps and turns. Mr. Cavanaugh, as a matador, demonstrated a fluid movement quality not often seen. However, he also danced a bit too much for himself, not reaching out to and connecting with his audience.

The combination of Ross Clarke and Ginger Smith, Kitri and Basilio in the matinees could also have offered more in the area of dramatic expression. The physical aspects seemed to consume them. While Ms. Smith displayed her deeply arched cambre back, jackknife arabesques, and commanding balances, her Kitri was merely sweet.

The ensemble work of the company has become so strong that we might almost take it for granted. As a whole, the ensemble is more and more technically adept, while also revealing a higher level of artistic and dramatic expression. Thanks in no small part to the dancing and acting of the corps, I heard a number of people exclaiming this was "the best thing I have ever seen!"

For the evening performance, it was great fun to be in the balcony, where the audience was unrestrained, gasping for the one-armed overhead lifts, exclaiming when Ms. Harley launched herself like a gymnast across the stage and into Mr. Zejnati’s arms, and spontaneously exclaiming, "What a beautiful dancer!" following Ms. Inayoshi's solo. Congratulations are in order to all for this tour de force production.

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I did and wrote about it in danceviewtimes.

The production had such a sense of place and community, that even with all of Don Quixote's mishegas, it was palpable how a stranger coming through town, even for the briefest of visits, could leave a drop of feeling that touched the someone he left behind.

What a treat to read about Daniel as DQ. He is a wonderful teacher, talent choreographer and a fine friend.

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Thanks, Arizona Native. It's interesting to read about another son-of-Balanchine company taking on this classic. (Villella's Miami City Ballet did it 2 years ago and is reviving it next season). The dancing sounds thrilling, and it's wonderful to hear about the enthusiastic audience responses:

For the evening performance, it was great fun to be in the balcony, where the audience was unrestrained, gasping for the one-armed overhead lifts, exclaiming when Ms. Harley launched herself like a gymnast across the stage and into Mr. Zejnati’s arms, and spontaneously exclaiming, "What a beautiful dancer!" following Ms. Inayoshi's solo. Congratulations are in order to all for this tour de force production.
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Russell Clarke and I shared Espada. It was cool to see the Clarke boys in the same cast though.

Congratulations, Ian, on the stellar review you received from Helene for your interpretation of Espada!

From Helene's review in
Ian Poulis danced Espada and the Act III fandango. (Russell Clarke was cast in the matinee performances.) Poulis is a tall, long-legged dancer, whose classical dancing is characterized by its softness -- ironically the defining quality of the foremost regional dance in Catalunya, the sardana -- and particularly in the first Act, where, in contrast to the fandango that has emphatic and defined toreador gestures, the "character" is mainly in the feet, the quick movements that are generally ideal for a shorter dancer. Instead of trying to change the underlying quality by forcing, he used his height and stature to his advantage through his bearing, by lifting his head and neck and slowly focusing on his partner with a gaze that burned through her, and indicating that any man who got between them was going to lose blood on the spot. The highlight of Espada's role is an entire solo in which he whips his cape above and behind and over and around himself, and with it, masterfully, Poulis tore down the house.

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There was so much good dancing (and acting) in this production that it wasn't possible to comment on it all. Did want to get something logged on Ballet Talk, however humble a "review," both because there are so many interested in this company, and also because the dancers deserve something more than the non-review by the local paper. Regarding the beat reviewer -- well, at least he appreciates the fine playing by the Phoenix Symphony. ; P

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Yes, I also want to thank you, Arizona Native. Especially when the local paper is not able or willing to take an important cultural event like this seriously. Ballet Arizona's (and Ib's) efforts to expand the repertory and bring a full-length classic to life definitely sound impressive. By telling us what and whom you saw, you do everyone a service. :rofl:

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Can you specify which Clarke Brother danced the Basil. Was it Ross or Russell who danced with Ginger Smith.

If you re-read above, I stated that Ross was Basilio and that Russell and I shared Espada.


thanks I believe it was the review that had the mistake and had us confused.

Thanks for clarifying.

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Thanks, Bart and Helene!

The lack of a real ballet critic in The Republic is making me crrrrazzzy ... with ticket sales soaring and the enthusiasm of the audiences, there's a feeling in the air that this could be a real ballet town. If we could get regular and appropriate reviews, it would certainly help. And then there are the various other dance performances in town that many of us would like to read about. Grrrrrrr!

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Arizona Native, I understand your frustration. Our own freelancers, though not ballet specialists, respect the art form and at least give it a good try. I should be moe grateful for that than I sometimes am.

My eye was caught by the following in your post:

... with ticket sales soaring and the enthusiasm of the audiences,
Given stories about the financial difficulties at Ballet Florida and several othe companies, all I can say to the people at Ballet Arizona is: :clapping::smilie_mondieu::flowers::D
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