Don Quixote | Stage review
The ballet Don Quixote is light, all-ages fare, set mostly in a village square straight out of a Disney flick. Yuri Possokhov’s cuts to the score and story for this new, lean version at the Joffrey Ballet trim it down to Disney-flick length to match. But most of what you expect to see in a Don Q is left intact, from Act I’s punchy dances, which bleed into and out of sunny crowd scenes; to the Don’s misty reverie of perfect, pale ladies dressed in pretty, pale tutus; to the grand wedding pas de deux, a show-off showpiece and favorite at galas; to broad antics from the Don (Fabrice Calmels, nicely tuned) and Sancho Panza (Derrick Agnoletti, slapstick silly). The latter pair, played like living cartoons, will pull giggles from the young ones.
There are family-friendly things that you don’t expect to see in a production of Don Q. The Don’s horse, Rocinante, is a giant puppet designed by locals Cynthia Von Orthal and Tiffany Lange and operated by two men; its little dances and batting lashes draw laughs and applause. And there are two brief flying sequences: One turns the Don’s ill-fated encounter with windmill blades into more of a hair-raising event than usual, while the other lends Amore (a cupid character danced by resident pixie Yumelia Garcia) a glamorous exit. There’s a pause during Act II, before the wedding, that’s a good length for clearing up any kids’ questions. Up until it and afterward this Don trucks along.
Possokhov goes overboard, however, with the slaps of women’s behinds. (Sure, it’s a ballet from the late 19th century, but there seem to be more here than usual, not less.) And why subject Matthew Adamczyk, one of the most talented actors in this company, to the embarrassment of this Don’s one-dimensional Gamache? The intended betrothed of our heroine, Kitri—much to her dismay, as she instead fancies the sexy barber, Basilio—Gamache is here sketched as a fey priss as crudely as Mickey Rooney played Japanese as Mr. Yunioshi.
The production’s new costumes (Travis Halsey), projections (Wendall K. Harrington) and sets (Jack Mehler) are handsome independently but, combined, their palettes ricochet in strange directions. To a stage full of warm, deep reds, golds and oranges, Mercedes (Alexis Polito) enters in shiny, jet black and shocking pink. The Act I, Scene 2 backdrop is vibrant…until the stage lighting comes up and nearly washes it out. Harrington incorporates Doré-style etchings, which are beautiful, but they’re stylistically marooned and too somber for the atmosphere onstage.
Which itself is a mixed bag. Carlos Quenedit, a Cuban dancer who defected to Mexico and for a while was a member of Miami City Ballet, is guesting as Basilio for this Don Q’s premiere run (through October 23, with casting variations, at the). Clean, fluent, strong and unmannered, his classical technique is of a caliber too rarely seen in Chicago; catch one of his remaining performances if you can. As Kitri, Victoria Jaiani is miscast, too weak for the role’s pyrotechnics and clumsy with the torsions of Spanish dance in her upper body. Some dancers’ mugging is incessant and tiresome, while others enter blank-faced or look worried and unsure.
Under the baton of Scott Speck, the Chicago Sinfonietta has fun with a dancerly reading of Minkus’s bold, brassy tunes.