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Leigh Witchel

NBoC's Don Q - Nov. 17

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[Preamble - Paquita did a nice review of another performance of this in the "Recent Performances" forum, and I refer you to it for a view of another cast]

Nicolas Beriozoff’s 1982 production of Don Quixote for the National Ballet of Canada (seen on Friday, 11/17/00) is a solid, workmanlike version of the Petipa via Gorsky choreography. Beriozoff tells the tale effectively and clearly, the dances were detailed and distinguished from each other.

Compared to ballet libretti like Giselle, Swan Lake or even Coppelia (to say nothing of comparing it to Cervantes) there isn’t much resonance in the story told here. The Petipa libretto, which reduces the Don to a comic character and focuses on the love affair between Kitri and Basilio the barber is followed for the most part. We get the Don and Sancho Panza and Kitri’s dilemma in trying to avoid being betrothed to Gamache. We see Mercedes and Espada at the inn, we get the gypsies, we get the windmill episode leading to the dream of the dryads (but no Amor), and we get the celebrated wedding pas de deux (without flower girls). The ballet sustains itself on bravura choreography, high spirits and joie de vivre.

Beriozoff’s production is most interesting for its simplicity, both in storytelling itself and in structure as well as for certain distinctions that are being bred out of ballet. It’s very nice to see a ballet that contains corps dances for women on pointe, women in soft slippers and women in heeled shoes, all of them for different purposes and with different vocabulary. Classical dance was done on pointe, character dance done in heeled shoes, but the village girls did a more rustic dance in soft slippers, and the plain black slippers was another way to show their position in the ballet’s society. The mime scenes with non-dancing characters were also very clear in structure and delivery; National Ballet of Canada has some fine character mimes long associated with the company.

The production is strong in cleanliness, but weak in inspiration. Beriozoff has a limited palette of Russo-Spanishisms to call upon in his choreography, various struts, lunges and poses in relévé had to serve for three acts worth of variety. After the fifth double tour to the knee in situations calling for bravura machismo, one was ready to see just about anything else, the same with the twelfth bent-knees-on-relévé-arms-inverted-above-head pose. It was all spray-on Spanish-in-a-can. A similar failure in vocabulary came about when Beriozoff gave Mercedes (note: I apologize, I’m working from memory - it may have actually been Kitri) the same Italian fouettés in act one that are canonical for the Queen of the Dryads in the vision scene. The two characters have no thematic relationship, so all that giving the two of them the same step accomplishes is to baldly show that one of them can do it better than the other.

As a company, the Canadians danced well, but it’s a very young company and it looks unused to the 19th century repertory. I found the female corps to be decently schooled but low on genetic diversity. They’re all long, very thin and extended, like pulled taffy. For NYCB watchers, think of an entire corps de ballet where every single women looked like Jennifer Tinsley (there’s nothing wrong with Jennifer Tinsley, just with that being the sole body type). I prefer my corps to look alike through similarity of impulse rather than xerography. The older character principals mime well, the corps looks like it understands what mime is but not why they do it. There’s a particularly egregious scene in a gypsy camp (an excuse for the Don to go tilting at windmills and get clouted on the head so that we can get to the vision scene). The premise of the entire scene is dramatically flimsy, the only way to save it is to do it vividly and clearly and believe in the situation. Those six poor callow gypsy boys looking profoundly uncomfortable in bright silk bandanas, and even worse carrying whips, made sporadic attempts at being hearty. No one seemed to have coached them into a context, so when they were asked to retreat to the sides after their dance and talk among themselves, it looked for all the world like the conversation they might have been having as they sullenly dragged their whips was “Come here often?” Desmond Heeley’s sets worked better than his costumes (the Gypsy drag wasn’t the only odd note, having Kitri appear to the Don as his ideal vision of Dulcinea in the same gaudy tiered dress that she wore as a flesh and blood woman made no sense.)

The casting I saw and that was listed for the production suggests that the company is very thin at the top. They’ve got three principal male dancers, only one of them is doing Basilio. Aleksandar Antonijevic is quite competent as Basilio, although I did not get to see his variation in the wedding; both his and Kitri’s variations were cut because Antonijevic injured himself in act two. He is handsome with finely bred lines, and perhaps his biggest deficit is that he seems painfully aware of this fact. Chan Hon Goh is more of a Swanilda than a Kitri; she’s a clean, quick dancer, but not a juicy or a fiery one. She did a respectable job; it’s not a great role for her. As Espada, Christopher Body performed powerfully (he’s built that way) but took himself a touch too seriously in his glowering and poses. He’s a blond Canadian playing a Spanish toreador. It wouldn’t hurt for there to be a flicker in his eyes as well as a glower.



Leigh Witchel - dae@panix.com

Personal Page and Dance Writing

Dance as Ever

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Thanks for the interesting review, Leigh. I'm sure "Spanish-in-a-Can" will be joining "Ballerina Polish" in the medicine cabinets of aab/BA's Constant Readers. Or perhaps their toolchests.

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