Don Quixote at the ABT

Don Quixote - Alina Cojocaru, Jose Manuel Carreno, Maria Riccetto
American Ballet Theatre 
May 20, 2011

Ballet season is nuts. The opera season is very long and easy to pace. But when spring fever at the ballet starts, especially the time when both the ABT and NYCB are playing, I often find myself going to the ballet twice, three times a week. It seems like life is really reduced to dashing back and forth between the plazas. Tonight was my third trip to the ballet in a week, and the first time seeing the ABT this season.

My last exposure Don Quixote was the Bolshoi in HD, which was pretty hard to top. In the first act I couldn't help but find the ABT production a bit prim and bare-bones compared to the swirling extravaganza the Bolshoi puts on for this ballet. The Bolshoi just has an endless reserve of character dancers that make the corps de ballet dances hard to beat. The dramatic way they do those backbends, with a huge sweep of the arm and snap of the fan, and their lower body strength, makes them seem like real folk dancers. You can tell the difference just in the way they bang the tambourines in Act One -- the Bolshoi practically pounds those tambourines broken, while the ABT dancers tap at them gingerly. (Sort of off-topic but not really: why can Tiler Peck and Daniel Ulbricht in Tarantella pound the tambourine with more conviction than the ABT dancers? It's a puzzlement.) The Bolshoi production can seem busy and at times even sort of vulgar, but it has a vitality and spirit that the ABT's production lacks. The ABT's production, despite rather fancy sets and pretty costumes, lacks any Spanish flair, and is only as good as the Kitri and Basilio.

 That being said, the ABT still attracts some of the world's best guest artists for its spring season. Last year for Don Quixote they had the incomparable Natalia Osipova. This year they brought in Alina Cojocaru, who was such an enchanting Aurora last year. It was Cojocaru that I saw tonight. Cojocaru's Kitri is a very different dancer from the spitfire techical wunderkind that is Natalia Osipova. Osipova is powerful and athletic, Cojocaru light and delicate. Both of them are great jumpers, but Osipova leaps through the air like a cheetah, while Cojocaru seems to float through space with a fairy-like airiness. Alina is a dancer whose career has been plagued with major injuries. You can see the signs of them in the extra-wide Gaynor Mindens she wears, that cover up huge bunions that are visible no matter how far back in the auditorium one sits. She also has a badly sickled left foot. But what I love about her is that despite the injuries, she holds nothing back. Her Kitri was a charmer, and she probably could have smiled and waved her fan a lot and the audience would have loved her. But she didn't just coast on her naturally sweet stage presence, she also pushed herself to do the technical tricks that are now a hallmark of this role. She took risks, and if she had a shaky moment or two, I admired her gutsiness. She did the Plisetskaya kicks to the back of the head, but in the diagonal of pirouettes that ends that variation, she stumbled badly and the audience gasped. In the Dream Sequence her upper body was just beautiful, as were the spring in her sissones. In the Act 3 grand pas de deux she held some mind-boggling balances, and in each fish dive seemed to devise a new trick with her excellent partner Carreno supporting her the entire way. She did some backwards fish dives where she spun in the air a rotation before landing in the fish dive, and she also did a split jete into a fish dive. She did the "jumping" version of Kitri's fan variation, and then finished the evening with an excellent set of fouettes -- doubles alternating with singles, and ended on a triple. The audience obviously admired this tiny, waif-like ballerina's determination, and rewarded her with a warm ovation. I cannot wait for next week's Giselle.

Jose Manuel Carreno (Basilio) judging from tonight could probably dance a couple more seasons. He's no longer a powerhouse, but he's still an excellent and strong partner (the one-handed lifts drew the predictable applause), and a stylish dancer. His trademark slow decelerating turns still draw applause. He can no longer do the barrel turns and some of the more spectacular tricks, but he made up for it in the elegance of his dancing. He and Cojocaru were a good match -- neither really overpowering in stage presence, but complementing each other beautifully. The only thing that betrays his age is his thinning hairline. It's been commented upon that the ABT's famously strong male roster is aging and getting weaker. Carreno retiring will really seem like the end of an era.

I think it's in the secondary characters and the corps de ballet that the ABT really suffers as a company. I've made three trips to the City Ballet in about two weeks, and one of the things I notice about that company is how night after night, they look so in unison, their footwork lightning fast, the steps sure and secure. The ABT corps not only don't have the Bolshoi's unbeatable energy and pizzazz, they don't have the City Ballet's well-drilled, professional polish and unison. When they move as a group their movements are muted in attitude and lack amplitude. Maria Riccetto was a disappointing Mercedes/Queen of the Dryads -- she lacked the flamboyance to do justice to the street dancer, and then lacked the technical security for the Dryad Queen. She struggled in her series of developpes, and then struggled with the Italian fouettes. She seemed to have a lot of trouble both raising her leg in developpe a la seconde and completing the rotation. She has a small-scale presence too that doesn't really project into a huge house like the Met. Gennadi Saveliev was way too stolid and plain-vanilla to make a convincing Espada. His square, inexpressive face, and the bored way he swung his cape made for a rather dull bull-fighter. The four matadors who danced a little number were noticeably out-of-synch with each other during their entire dance. They didn't take off at the same time, didn't wave their capes the same way, didn't land at the same time, or in the same position. It was distracting. Renata Pavam was okay as Cupid. Bright spots were to be found in Simone Messmer's game attempt at the Gypsy, and Isabella Boylston and Sarah Lane (now better known in the press as The Girl Benjamin Dumped For Natalie and The Girl Who Did the Dancing For Natalie) as the Flower Girls. Victor Barbee was also an endearing Don Quixote who recovered nicely from a nasty spill off the windmill.

By the way, there were depressing ROWS of empty seats tonight. Is everyone worried about the end of the world that's supposed to happen tomorrow?

I come home from the ballet tonight, and immediately saw that the casting for Jewels at the City Ballet was up, and now it's just choosing which cast I want to see. Ah, the crazy joys of ballet season.


  1. Yes to all of this...

    EXCEPT...wasn't Espada played by someone else last night?

  2. He was supposed to be played by Sascha Radetsky but there was a slip in the playbill and Gennadi Saveliev went on instead.


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