Baryshnikovs Failed Don Quixote


On Dance BARYSHNIKOV'S FAILED DON QUIXOTE BY ROBERT GRESKOVIC T hose familiar with ballet history know that the travels of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza lose a great deal in translation from the...

...On Dance BARYSHNIKOV'S FAILED DON QUIXOTE BY ROBERT GRESKOVIC T hose familiar with ballet history know that the travels of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza lose a great deal in translation from the novel to the ubiquitous showpiece called the Don Quixote Pas de Deu x For the unfamiliar, one earful of Ludwig Min-kus' circus-tuney score and one glimpse of a fan-wielding ballerina in a red and black tutu is usually enough to make clear how tenuous the Cervantes connection is Yet a dramatic retelling of the epic tale was hardly the intention of Manus Petipa, ballet master of the Imperial Theater in St Petersburg, who created Don Q in 1869 for Moscow's Bolshoi Ballet He saw Cervantes' people and locales as providing the opportunity to color the Russian dance persona he knew with Spanish character Eventually, "Russianspanish"—the full use of a deeply arched upper back, emphatic, clear, fast footwork, and a brazen advancing thiust ol theshould-eis—became the bnghtest leather in Russian chaiacter dancing And recent Russian-company pioductions (01 liuncalions) ol Don Q have traded (Inillingly on the shameless abandon and unbounded muscle powei that the style calls loi The latest revival of Patipa's sprawling ballet is by Mikhail Bary-shmkov, who attempts to give the American Ballet Theater as enjoyable a version as possible of a work that in a New York Tunes interview he called "a mess, but I love it " Having seen four pertormances, with two difterent ABT casts, I'd say that it is no longer a mess, and I don't love it What Baryshmkov has done to clean up Don O is keep the locus on the ballerina (kitri, a frisky sefionta) and the danseui (Basil, a local baibei and hei bovliicnd) In addition, he lias liamed then athletic ducts ot courtship and chicanery with dances for toreodors, street strollers, gypsies, and assorted friends There are secondary leads for Gamache, Kitn's foppish suitor, Lorenzo, her father, Espada, a matador, and Mercedes, a street dancer Don, Sancho and Dulci-nea are given rather small roles, and there is a distinctive solo in a dream sequence for the female corps de ballet Baryshmkov's most original and charming touch, however, is a prologue played as a pantomime frieze just before the first act curtain rises This scene involves all the important characters in an encapsulated version of the action about to follow, and it is performed to a piano accompaniment that lends it the dramatic quality of a silent film Unfortunately, once the orchestra launches into the first of many repetitious melodies, the narrative elements are suppressed and the dances start coming at you, one after another True, Baryshmikov has left m all the necessary historical ingredients, but he has strung them together with a modern compactness that shuns mime or story in dance Without the transitional reactions of crowds and principals, or modulated anticipations and build ups, or occasional relaxations of energy, each dance, originally meant to stand on its own, becomes an extension of the one preceding it The result of this streamlining is not a newfound clarity but a busy monotony Baryshmkov's tendency to overlap centers of stage action doesn't help matters A spat, for instance, is otien pushed out of the way as vet another group swings forward to begin its dance And while one admires Barvshni-kov s use of all the participants simultaneously—onlookers snapping their fingers or clapping their hands to egg on the soloists, the locals linking hands and weaving a keuuniun;—it soon becomes c\ idem that designing and directing an entire ensemble arc not Bar\shinko\ s siiong points consider the concluding moments ol (he last act The new 1\-wed kutti and Basil aic placed moic 01 less in the center of a louuing \-loinijuon ol mcrt\making folks, but while this is going on, Don Quixote staggers to the front of the stage in pursuit of Dulcinea, who skims off into the wings as the curtain falls Baryshmkov's shortcomings with mtse-en-scene would probably seem less pronounced if the ABT cast could convincingly present the admirably set choreography of the dances But these Americans have a tough time with Russianspanish, and they look particularly out of place when Baryshmkov himself performs the role of Basil He glories in demicharacter roles, and this one, a combination of what he used to do in the Soviet Union and what he has learned to do here in the West, stays inside the ballet's traditional shapes, yet at the same time expands them to proportions one could never dream possible Of all his fine moments, one might single out his variation with wine goblets in the tavern scene of Act II He begins by sailing through a series of double rivoltades with a goblet in one hand, before he is done, he's spun through some triple inside sauts de basques and embellished a series of grandes pirouettes, with a goblet in each hand Unfortunately, I could not help wish away certain aspects of Gelsey Kirkland's Kitn Hardly ever closing her stiff-upper lipped mouth, she had a continual and unpleasant look of desperate ecstasy—a look compounded by her severe warpaint makeup and the highly lacquered artificiality of her hair Her dancing, generous and spectacular in its size, nevertheless had a shape that was often out of line with the material Whereas the jumps, lunges and balances that Kitn is asked to "hit" yield their maximum impact when contrasted with emphatic preparations, Kirkland's easy way deempha-sized her thrust Except for John Meehan, who gave a stylish and nearly successful account of Basil in a subsequent performance (only the big jumps of Act III completely eluded him), few other men in the ABT cast were successful John Pnnz as Espada, though, had a charismatic effrontery that nearly compensated for his lack of strength in his tavern scene solo The female dancers were less capable technically, not to mention stylistically The dream sequence was typical Here character colorations are suspended and the dancers are asked as a corps de ballet to do little more than pose in grouped arrangements or travel in lines, doing ballonnis All that is needed to theatricalize their one repeated step into a dance is a strong use of the thigh and a smart use of the arms ABT's corps showed neither The female soloists were equally deficient Jolinda Menendez, with her ear-high kick and her stubby releve looked like someone falling into a hole instead of a ballerina springing to a pinpoint of balance Janet Shibata was so dim and weak as the flower girl that the audience saw less than dancing Santo Loquasto's sets fell short, too Aside from a handsome design from a fan, chosen for a scrim, little else was noteworthy The "antiqued" surface of the chipped stucco walls and colonnades remined me of the bas reliefs that decorate coffee-shops and are meant to provide the look of ancient Greece Loquasto's costumes were generally pleasant, with his finest results in the dream maiden's pastel tutus, and the silvery, shimmery clouds that swathed Dulcinea Jennifer Tipton's lighting was strangely and uncharacteristically harsh, perhaps because of Loquasto's glossy surfaces Patrick Flynn's orchestrations and transcriptions of the familiar Minkus score were fairly standard, though some of the climaxes, particularly the finales of Act I and II, had a strange 20th-century dissonance that warped the sweetness of the usual Russian orchestration Baryshmkov's work will stay with the ABT even after he leaves next month to join the New York City Ballet Once his perfection is removed, the company will be on its own, and will either make Don Quixote more theatrical and vital or let it slip further out of its weak grasp...

Vol. 61 • June 1978 • No. 13

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