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BNC in Vancouver in Don Quixote

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I just returned home from opening night in Vancouver at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, where they performed with live orchestra yahoo.gif

I'm not sure how streamlined the production is for touring. Here the sets were pretty basic, and I suspect there are more people on stage when it's presented at home. It lasted about 2.5 hours with two intermissions, and it felt stripped down and a bit lonely after seeing Ratmansky's in Seattle two weekends ago. In the BNC production, Basilio and Kitri or Kitri, in the "Dream Scene", are the focus throughout most of the ballet. Don Quixote is portrayed as a nobleman who is trying to help out, after being implored to do so by his local villagers, who are suffering from the French invasion; there's little quixotic about him, apart from seeing a vision of Dulcinea. He partners Kitri beautifully in the "Dream Scene", and just so you don't confuse her with the Queen of the Dryads or Cupid, she's wearing a modified peasant dress with a red bodice with a below-the-knee white tulle skirt with an overlay of red. The stage action is quite conventional, with all of the big entrances from upstage left, and the townspeople and matadors forming a big U to clear stage center, which meant, for the most part, we were the audience, not the other members of the community.

One of the nice plot conventions in this production is that Graciosa, a gypsy girl, is caught stealing a piece of fruit in Act I. Kitri defends her and gives Graciosa her shawl. When Kitri and Basilio run away and end up in a gypsy camp -- not a particularly safe place for civilians -- they are surrounded and threatened, until Graciosa recognizes Kitri as her protector, and they are welcomed. In this production, Kitri's father and Camacho discover them in the camp, and they are taken home.

The vision is both a plot convention and a lovely physical one: Dulcinea often appears under a veil, with her arms out a little farther than first position, slighlty curved, and on point. She turns, and she's like a magic, revolving door, and Kitri appears from behind her. Although after the first time there was no surprise, it never failed to delight.

The orchestra tempi, for the most part were on the slow side. On the one hand, the energy was missing, and the dancers had to crank it up, but on the other hand, it was beautifully languid in the adagios, and it did give a sun-baked aura to the setting. The group scene with the gypsies was the most rousing of all of the ensemble dances, although the corps women in Act III were very sharp for the wedding scene (and they got a decent tempo).

I was a bit surprised that there wasn't more Latin inflection throughout the company, but, apart from that, it was a pleasure to see them and to be introduced to these dancers; it's been a while since I've seen a company that not only had a common style, but goes beyond that to show a common lineage. BNC looks like an extended family, like the famous Flamenco families, where the strengths are common, but the dancers are by no means like cookie cutters. I was amused by the characters of "Two handsome boys", because that could describe all of the men on the stage.

BNC brought the big guns with them, and because it is a tour, it's possible that it might not be usual casting to see the same intersection of Kitris, Basilios, Mercedes, Espadas, Dryad Queens, Juanitas, Piquillas, and Cupids over the run, interspersed with a few up and coming members of the company. What we're getting in Vancouver is a lot of depth, so that the Espada, Arian Molina, and Mercedes, Amaya Rodrigues, who were fantastic -- clean, clear, full-bodied, full of inflection and musicality -- will perform Basilio and Queen of the Dryads later in the run.

Viengsay Valdes was Kitri, and she was clearly the alpha, rarely bothering to be jealous of her Basilio in Act I, but definitely in charge. That changed in Act II, when the gypsy girls paid him a lot of attention, and Kitri was not happy about it. Osiel Gounod was her Basilio. He's a plush, muscular dancer, much in the Igor Zelensky mold, and could he fly: his saut de basques in particular looked six feet off the ground, and he and Viengsay can turn like no one's business.

Valdes and Gounod were brilliant in Act I and Act II, where Basilio's variation for the gypsies is oddly prince-like, and the BNC "Don Q" has a lovely pas de deux for Kitri and Basilio at the beginning of Act II. Where they really turned it on was in the Act III Pas de Deux. What was extraordinary was how they did this without distorting any of the music or phrases, and despite some cheeky timing and inflection by Gounod, never had a self-satisfied "ta da" anywhere in it. Valdes hit perfect balances, and without a wobble, gracefully changed the position of her arms, or moved her working leg from attitude to passe and neatly to sous-sous or fifth, or moved her leg from passe to attitude on point jawdrop.gif , all within the breath of the phrase. I'd never seen anything like it before. For her fouettes, she started with doubles for the first half, and then went to singles -- each one started from a la second -- and ended with at least a quad. Among the gazillion supported pirouettes she and Gounod did, she did multiple pirouettes in passe and attitude. (I think the first of the attitude turns was a triple.) Again, all within the music, and never with a big preparation or fall out that marred the phrase. The only thing that surprised me was that she didn't use a fan in her variation.

After the adagio, Gounod had big shoes to fill, and boy did he ever fill them: he was able to spin and spin and spin, transition seamlessly from position to position, slow down the turns, stop on a dime, and place his feet cleanly together on the floor. In his turns in a la second in the coda, he slowed down almost to a complete stop facing front, never dropping his working leg, went into plie, and pushed up and started turning again. In his jumps, he soared.

Audiences in Vancouver are notoriously polite with the applause -- "What do you mean we're not enjoying it: we're smiling (in the dark), aren't we?" -- but I haven't seen a crowd reaction like the one for the Pas de Deux since the Olympics. And it was well-deserved.

I'm just sad I won't be able to see all four performances. These dancers and their tradition are a living treasure.

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Good to see Gounod moving up to dance with Valdes. He was truly the best male dancer I saw when the BNC were here last year. They need him front and center, after seeing some of the male principals they were fielding who were not quite up to snuff with what you expect of the Cubans. He's beautiful onstage.

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