Center Stage: Russian ballet blazes with timeless ‘Don Quixote’
The Russian National Ballet Theatre was founded in Moscow in the late 1980s, during the transitional period of Perestroika when ballet companies began rethinking with new creative freedom of how to invigorate the timeless tradition of classical Russian ballet.
The company is made up of over 50 dancers that are graduates of the world famous ballet schools of Moscow and St. Petersburg. And the principal dancers come from the upper ranks of the great ballet companies and academies of Russia, in addition to the companies that flourish in Riga, Kiev, and even Warsaw.
Legendary Bolshoi Ballet’s principal dancer, Elena Radchenko, is the company’s artistic director, and her mission is to focus the Russian National Ballet Theatre’s repertoire on the great complete ballets by Petipa: “Don Quixote,” “La Bayadere,” “The Sleeping Beauty,” “Swan Lake,” “Raymonda,” “Paquita,” “Coppelia,” “La Sylphide,” “The Nutcracker,” “Sylvia” and “La Fille Mal Gardee.”
These are the classical ballets that most of us the viewing audience know and love. This Russian Ballet Company travels around the globe in addition to performing in Moscow, with U.S. tours traveling from coast to coast performing on an average of four months. Procuring this world class company for the Community Concerts was a real coup for our Fort Myers audience, to have them perform the full-length version of the bravura, tour-de-force ballet “Don Quixote” was an even bigger treat.
Just a bit of background on this ballet: “Don Quixote” was originally staged in four acts based on an episode taken from the famous novel “Don Quixote de la Mancha” by Cervantes. It was originally choreographed by Marius Petipa to the music of Minkus and was first presented by the Imperial Bolshoi in 1869.
This ballet has been revised many times since. Anna Pavlova first brought this ballet to America in 1924. Ninette de Valois staged a full revival for the Royal Ballet in 1950, Rudolf Nureyev staged his version in 1966 for Vienna State Opera Ballet, George Balanchine staged a modern version in 1965 for NYC Ballet (he cast himself in the main role of the Don); and now this back to the Petipa classic in the Russian National Ballet in the 1990s.
“Don Quixote” is a staple in big ballet companies, with its Spanish setting, happy ending and firecracker divertissements that provide marvelous star turns for the principal dancers; and this big, bold and brash rendition of The Russian National Ballet proved the point of how exceptional their performance could be and was. This particular ballet is perfectly suited for the Russians, who play the ballet’s loveably and almost campy, over-the-top characters. It seems to be part of their DNA.
The storyline is told in broad strokes: a deluded but somehow heroic Don Quixote (skillfully portrayed and danced by Dmitry Romanov) is a knight-errant who comes across thwarted lovers Kitri (Maria Sokolnikova) and her beloved Basilio (Eldar Sarsemgaev). He solves their problems, then leaves for further adventures. The comedy is pure slapstick, and the ballet’s comedic characters are larger than life, but in the good hands of artful character dancers like Evgeniy Rudakov (Sancho Panza) and Camacho (Anton Baglikov) the rich, foppish, suitor, or Kitri’s father (the lover’s fly in the ointment ), and innkeeper Lorenzo (Anton Baglikov).
In portraying their eccentric roles, you see the talent of creative actor/dancers playing real people who happen to be oddballs; and they are absolutely delightful. There is a bit of everything in this delightful ballet; first of all tour de force dancing, all manner of scenery chewing, ridiculously passionate displays of love, just a hint of vulgarity when the toreadors come marching in at one point, with Konstantin Marikin and Nurlan Kinerbaev out preening themselves for the audience’s pleasure, plus a wild flamenco dance with Natalia Ivanova burning the floor.
This ballet is most famous for the Grand pas de deux in Act 2, which pulls out all the stops. Here Eldar Sarsembaev’s charisma and extrovert physicality as Basilio made him a force of nature that this ballet demands, while Maria Sokolnikova as Kitri blazed not only dance wise playing her sexiness making her the “It Girl” in her village, she kept up the bravura dancing step for step every time she and her partner were meant to dazzle the audience.
All in all I would give the Russian National Ballet Theatre 4 stars for this grand and breathtaking performance of “Don Quixote,” and once again thank you Community Concerts for bringing us all such a gift of outstanding concerts for 67 seasons.
I can’t say it often enough Community Concerts is still the “Best Buy in the Area.” With tickets as low as $10, you can’t afford to miss these concerts, as well as support this terrific endeavor with contributions as well as season tickets.