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Dvorovenko's Kitri

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Like a cat with her tail, whatever a good Kitri does with her fan speaks volumes about what's going on in her mind during the course of ABT's amiable warhorse of a Don Quixote. She can use it to: point; obscure her face, from anger or modesty or to hide a smooch with her sweetheart, Basilio; smack said sweetheart on the head or shoulder when his attention (and embraces) wander, and, of course, fan herself -- either her face or her heaving embonpoint (or what passes for such with most ballerinas). If your evening's Kitri happens to be ABT's Ukrainian firebrand, Irina Dvorovenko, she can also snap open her fan while holding it high over her head for each of four or five lightning-fast double fouette turns out of the thirty or so she tosses blithely off during the ballet's third-act grand pas de deux, posing this question for the reviewer after the salvos of cheers and applause these gestures unleash: Is she fanning, or is she whipping her audience into a frenzy?

While entertaining to contemplate, this question was a bit moot last May 18, when Dvorovenko danced Kitri opposite the Basilio of her husband, Maxim Belotserkovsky. Dvorovenko had the audience at the Met eating out of her hand from her first entrance in the first act (oh, yes, Kitri can also smack the stage quite passionately with her fan in her first-act solos). By the time of the third-act pas, they were totally in her thrall, as was I, and her most telling bit of business with that fan came at the beginning of her solo in the pas, where she started her series of deliberate and solid echappes on pointe by hiding her face behind her fan, then reaching up with her free hand to delicately pluck one edge of the fan, pulling it closed as if she were opening a curtain, to reveal her beaming (and, by then, totally triumphant) continence. Yes, it was monumentally corny, yet it was only by virtue of the stellar performance she'd turned in until that moment that she could get away with such unabashed showmanship, and here, too, the audience roared its approval. So did I, for that matter.

It's very easy to bash Don Quixote. Riccardo Drigo's repetitive score peaks at second or third rate, and is often far worse than that. As with Coppelia (which at least has a heavenly score by Leo Delibes), it's all too easy to conclude that none of the characters are sympathetic, or even terribly interesting. The obligatory second-act dream/vision/hallucination scene is far from Petipa's best (if the rest of the ballet world ever suffers from a shortage of balonnes, this scene is the culprit -- they're all here!). And, whenever you think it's safe to open your eyes again (this is not a ballet of which Balanchine, or anyone, would have said that if you don't like what' you're seeing, close your eyes and listen to the music), here come those damn bullfighters again, or, worse, the Flower Girls. Is there a more thankless role in classical ballet? They might as well be carrying signs that say, "Nothing important is happening right now. Kitri's changing into her wedding dress, so we'll noodle around with another oompah variation or two. Feel free to zone out until she gets back." This is not to say anything against Shelkanova and Konobeyeva, ABT's brace of blonde Russian soloists, who shouldered their flowery burden quite professionally. But while I've seen both turn in fine performances in certain roles, there's often a kind of blurry competence to their dancing which fairly screams "eternal soloist" to me (unlike Dvorovenko's, which screams "I am going to be a principal dancer, dammit"). It would take some stellar acting and dancing to bring these roles to life, and ballet doesn't want stellar Flower Girls -- it wants a stellar Kitri.

Without her, and without an equally stellar Basilio, ABT's Don Quixote is a vehicle with nobody at the wheel on a leisurely trip to nowhere. While great ensemble work can carry a Swan Lake or Giselle, there's not enough here for ABT's corps to sink its teeth or toeshoes into. The ballet really rises and falls on the strength of its leads, not just Kitri and Basilio, but also Kitri's father, Lorenzo, and Gamache, her foppish suitor, as well as the Don and Sancho Panza. John Gardner (Lorenzo) and Carlos Molina (Gamache) handled the endless slapstick well, with appropriately theatrical mugging and timing. Brian Reeder's Don looked suitable noble and dazed, and Flaviio Salazar made Sancho Panza appear quite convincingly foolish and food-obsessed.

Of the other secondary roles, Yan Chen is quite relentlessly adorable as Amor, but this is one role that gets more wearing with repeated viewings. Gillian Murphy's Dryad Queen was appropriately regal, and Murphy's strength and clarity are always make her enjoyable to watch, but her impassive mien made me think someone should have told her that not every second-act Queen has to be Myrtha. Well, she'll doubtless live and learn. Marcelo Gomes seemed a bit more flash than substance as the matador, Espada, while Carmen Corella's Mercedes was perhaps too substantial, and not in a theatrical manner.

I'm loath to leave this review without returning to the leads, Dvorovenko and Belotserkovsky. While I've been raving at some length about her dancing, he's no slouch, either. With his short torso and long, long legs, he's got about the best line of any man with ABT, and complements Dvorovenko perfectly. I admired his beautifully placed multiple pirouettes (he seldom goes in for flashy embellishments to his turns like, say, Corella, but they're clean and swift and seemingly endless) and explosive elevation. I saw what looked to be some evidence of nerves in a certain fixed and glassy quality to his stage smile, and his extreme care to point every foot oh-so-perfectly. I also occasionally noticed this with Dvorovenko, but given that they're soloists dancing principal roles, a certain amount of nerves is understandable, and nothing timely and well-deserved promotions wouldn't cure. It's also nice to see a married couple working together so happily onstage -- their mime and acting in the first-act pas d'action where Kitri alternates between flirting with and ignoring Basilio was a delight, replete with smoldering jealous glances, swooning and fan-obscured kisses and the insuoiscant tossing of the occasional fan and guitar. With their perfect comic timing, they looked as if they'd been dancing together for years (as they have been), yet the ebb and flow of attention, passion, anger and, finally, love, seemed as fresh as if we were watching it unfold before our eyes for the first time.

[This message has been edited by Manhattnik (edited June 16, 2000).]

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This has definitely been Belotserkofsky's season to emerge from the shadows quite as much as Dvorovenko's -- or even more, since he started so much more in the shade.

Besides the wonderful qualities you mention Eric, he is a noble partner for any ballerina and very strong in supporting his partners in lifts. Did you notice how beautifully he lifted Dvorovenko straight up, as high as possible, with his arms fully extended over his head (I don't know the name for this lift) twice in Swan Lake -- it was one of the high points (no pun intended) of that ballet.

It's particularly good to see him paired with Irina because he is so often paired with absolutely impossible partners. In La Sylphide his Sylph as Yan Chen. Enough said. She was clueless, which was not so much a problem in Act I, where there is a good blueprint and everyone knows what to do. But in Act II, where the principal couple is more emotionally on their own, he had to create a dialogue with no one to speak to. An impossible task. Thus, my joy at seeing him paired with Irina.

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Thanks very much for the review, Manhattnik. It's always nice when one of our favorites lives up to our expectations smile.gif

Re Belotserkovsky, he only did Siegfried down here because Ethan Stiefel, originally paired with Amanda (blond on bland, IMO) was ill. The difference he made in that ballet was incredible. He made it look like a messy, normal Swan Lake with a weird Von Rothbart, but much more like a standard production. This is OT for Don Q, sorry, but I have to say I've been rather buoyed by the comments on this board from ABT regulars about the production. I was afraid that Belotserkovsky would be considered "old-fashioned" -- he looked like a Prince from 20 years ago, which, in my book, is a good thing. I've yet to hear anyone say that (but feel free to do so, of course, if you do smile.gif )

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Guest Kitri

Correct me if I'm wrong, (this could be terribly embarassing) but isn't the boring, repetative music in Don Q. composed by Ludwig Minkus? This is not for the sake of nit-picking, but for general knowledge. smile.gif

I believe Drigo, as were many others, composers of Le Corsaire.



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In the 60's, we used to call the oompah music Drinkus from the near interchangeability of their styles, but I like it - it's opéra comique music related to von Suppé (who was Donizetti's nephew), Offenbach, and even Sir Arthur Sullivan. One thing has bothered me about the Kirov's little "Fairy Doll" pas de trois is that they cite Joseph Bayer as the composer. I've heard the whole of his "Fairy Doll" score, and not a phrase of it is in there. If that's not Drigo, I'm a monkey's uncle.

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Yes, it was monumentally corny, yet it was only by virtue of the stellar performance she'd turned in until that moment that she could get away with such unabashed showmanship, and here, too, the audience roared its approval.

Dvorovenko managed to win me over completely the first time I saw her, as Valencienne in "Merry Widow" (an insubstantial piece of fluff that I totally enjoyed). Among her many other qualities, I particularly enjoyed the way she would shamelessly flirt with and tease the audience.

If Minkus got the royalties for all the music of his that's played at ballet competitions, he'd be richer than Bill Gates. THEN maybe he'd get some respect.

It seems like at least once a year I launch into my defense of Minkus. As his entry in the Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music states, "From musical point of view, had misfortune to be contemporary of Tchaikovsky." Minkus was an extremely competent craftsman who wrote some enjoyable tunes that fulfilled their main purpose: they gave the dancers something to dance to. I'll often put on his music from "La Bayadere" just for the bouncy fun of listening to it. He's certainly no Tchaikovsky, but when I hear Tchaikovsky I want to sit and listen; when I hear Minkus I want to get up and dance.

What really bugs me about Minkus-bashers is that so many of them will then turn around and gush about someone like Gorecki, who IMO never wrote anything that was worth listening to for more than 5 minutes, at which point he's used up the musical idea he started with then proceeds to drag it out for another 20. Minkus, at least, was unpretentious.


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I think Minkus-bashing came out of the 1950s rage for Tchaikovsky-bashing - "all it is is pretty tunes and loud." You haven't lived until you've heard a medley from the fifth and sixth symphonies and the 1812 Overture played on recorders, viols and lutes, with pop-guns for the cannon! Anyway, Tchaikovsky proved unassailable from this assault by pipsqueak musicologists, and so they lowered their sights to a composer with fewer partisans.

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I'd never bash Minkus but most of his music strikes me as awfully ordinary; the first time I saw "The Kingdom of the Shades" I was jarred by the pristine classicism of the choreography and the tinkly bouncy-bouncy music which accompanied most of it. A lot of what he did was hack work, to put it bluntly, but as Steve observes, it's enjoyable, unpretentious, well crafted hack work which fulfills its function successfully.

Having said that, it was a great thing for ballet that Delibes and Tchaikovsky came along to compose music that was more than just competent accompaniment to dancing. And I don't think the dance impulse in Delibes or Tchaikovsky is weaker than in Minkus; it's just more subtle.

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