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Eifman Don Q at Costa Mesa

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Boris Eifman's "Don Quixote, or, Fantasies of a Madman" premiered at Segerstrom Center in Costa Mesa on April 26. Having seen several of Eifman's works before, I attended, with feelings of foreboding, the April 30 evening performance--Walpurgis Night! Ballet instead of bonfires for me... The Los Angeles Times bestowed on its readers a harsh review of the April 26th performance. With those facts as background, let us move on to the two issues we have to cover: (1) the work itself; (2) the performance.

Eifman's "Don Quixote, or, Fantasies of a Madman" is not to be looked upon as a new or parallel production of the familiar Petipa-based "Don Quixote," nor as a new treatment of the Cervantes novel (or any part of it) per se; and this, I think, is the mistake that the Times' reviewer, Victoria Loosleaf, made (I won't quote from the review, as it is available on-line). Eifman has taken the Petipa ballet as a springboard for delving into, on the surface, the psyche of our ingenioso Don, but, more abstractly, into the dynamic of mankind's dreams and fantasies--and a moment's reflection will remind us that dreams, fantasies, and--uncomfortably--madness are part and parcel of Art itself. Don Q.'s unconsciously, through his personal "mad" vision, redeeming the fake Dulcinea from an unremittingly ugly life into one which can thereafter cling to a vision of hope is something which will remain with me; and it is a parable of Art's place in human affairs. While I walked into the theater very dubious about what I was going to experience--Eifman's works have, in the past, seemed to me to be largely heavy-handed angst-fests, but performed beautifully by a skilled and dedicated ensemble--I left the performance deeply touched by what I felt to be Eifman's success in his undertaking. I congratulate him.

The work does still need some re-thinking here and there, some ties between various elements to be made clearer, and the meaning of some symbols or sequences to be clarified. For some specifics: Once the insane asylum element has been established, which is immediately, we could do with less indulgence in its inmates' general antics subsequently. If Don Q. is to be identified with Basil, which I understood not from the show but rather, with surprise, from the notes which I read after the show, this needs to be put across to the audience more forthrightly. What was meant to be, evidently, an actual escape from the asylum and episode in a "real" tavern, I took to be an imaginary escape to the Petipa's Don' Q.'s gypsy camp. Eifman's ideas in all of these are good, valid ones; but these and no doubt others flew right over the head of even this very pensive and symbol-seeing audience member. This is a very good piece, and deserves further careful attention and development from Eifman.

As I mentioned before, whatever I might think of particular shows, Eifman's dancers have always struck me as giving beautiful and dedicated performances; and this was the case last night. If I had to find something unsatisfactory to note, aside from the music being of the canned variety, I'd say that our Basil, Alexei Turko, seemed to me to be a bit effortful at times, and distracted me by seeming to be talking to himself. Back to the plus side, our substitute-Dulcinea, Anastasia Sitkinova, impressed not only by her dancing but also by truly inhabiting her role dramatically, which called for a wide range of emotions. Vladimir Dorokhin provided the most skilled and fresh portrayal of Gamache I have seen. The three threatening "giants" were psychologically frightening in just the right way.

This show validated Eifman to this former unbeliever. See it, enjoy it, learn about madness, art, dreams, the human condition, and redemption through hope.

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