By Kevin Griffin, Vancouver Sun February 17, 2012
Vancouverites got their first chance to see some of the best dancers in the world on stage in Don Quixote at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre Thursday. Audience members responded enthusiastically with two standing ovations during the performance — plus one at the end.
The dancers were stunning to watch. From the corps de ballet to the stars, no one looked like they were just going through the motions. They all performed like they were pushing themselves right to the edge of their abilities.
In particular, premier dancer Viengsay Valdés as Kitri combined great stage presence with outstanding skill. It’s no surprise that she’s rated the sixth best dancer in the world. In her pas de deux in the third act, she balanced en pointe on one toe while she raised the other behind her. She didn’t do that just once but five times. Lest anyone think she could only do it on one side, she did it with both the right and left legs.
After Valdés electrified the audience with her performance, the focus shifted to her partner, Osiel Gounod as Basilio. Full of bravado and confidence, he momentarily paused and looked at the audience as if to say: “Yes, she’s good. But so am I. Watch me.”
And that’s what we did as he commanded the stage with his performance. When he jumped with outstretched legs during grand jetés, he had so much height he appeared to be momentarily defying gravity and floating. When he landed, he touched down softly, ready and able to leap again — and again and again. When Gounod danced, he wasn’t just following choreography. He became the dance.
Don Quixote, the package all this beautiful dancing came in, was a narrative ballet first performed in Moscow in 1869. Although it has been reworked several times, most recently by the ballet’s director Alicia Alonso in 1988, it retains its 19th century roots.
The story is based on an episode from the novel by Miguel de Cervantes. It centres on Kitri and Basilio, whose true love is threatened by her father Lorenzo. He believes she should marry Camacho, a wealthy nobleman. The problem is that Lorenzo is a bumbling drunkard and Camacho a pretentious buffoon. Neither represent serious threats. If Kitri is such a prize, I wondered, then why don’t Basilio and Camacho fight for her hand by challenging each other to a dance duel? It seems like an obvious dramatic confrontation but it never happens.
Don Quixote lacks a dark force threatening the romantic love of the main characters. When they finally get married in the end, it doesn’t feel as if they’ve earned their happiness together.
Part of the spectacle was hearing live music during a dance performance. It made a big difference to have the original score by Ludwig Minkus performed by the Vancouver Opera Orchestra.
Performances by the Cuban National Ballet are dedicated to the memory of David Y. H. Lui. He was a legendary Vancouver impresario and the driving force behind bringing the Cuban National Ballet to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. Lui died suddenly last September.
Plot summary for Don Quixote
Kitri, the daughter of innkeeper Lorenzo, is love with Basilio, the poor barber. Dad says no the marriage but suggests as a potential mate Camacho, who has lots of money. When Don Quixote and Sancho Panza arrive in the square in Castile, they defend love by helping the couple escape Camacho’s soldiers. On their journey, the couple are welcomed by a band of Gypsies but are finally captured. Don Quixote is so upset, he mistakes a windmill for a giant and attacks it with his lance. At the forced marriage of Kitri and Camacho, Basilio fakes his suicide and tricks Kitri into marrying him on his deathbed. The priest okays the marriage, Camacho is sent packing and Don Quixote helps reconcile Kitri and her father. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza say goodbye and continue on their search for truth and justice.
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