Long Overdue Review for DonQ

13 Feb

For the past two weekends, Alexei Ratmansky’s Don Quixote has been a major hit in Seattle. I attended the first Saturday evening performance, where the buzz was already apparent after Act I—with the exception of the bitter couple that left their orchestra level seats in front of some friends of mine during the first intermission (take a wild guess who was then “upgraded” from second tier to orchestra!). To be honest I probably could’ve agreed with those people about the ballet at one time in my life because DonQ isn’t exactly on my list of favorites. In fact, I rather despised it, with its bland (but irritatingly catchy) Minkus score and its hackneyed plot. Given, few things about ballet are logical, but DonQ pushed it to the extreme for me and when I watched the Baryshnikov staging on film, I was underwhelmed. However, I can honestly say that I enjoy a great deal of Ratmansky’s version and had a wonderful time watching Pacific Northwest Ballet be the one to premiere it in America.

One of the most difficult challenges for this production though was choosing which cast to see! A few of my favorite dancers were in the lead roles, like Carla Körbes, Carrie Imler, and Lucien Postlewaite, but of course never with each other! Ultimately, I decided to see Imler because I hadn’t seen her in a full-length story ballet before as I have with both Körbes and Postlewaite. Before all else, it has to be said that Imler is an absolute treasure in the ballet world—she’s not a string bean contortionist or a petite porcelain doll—no, she’s a throwback to what the women of ballet used to be, and embodies the qualities that made them legendary. She has a flair that conjures images of the Soviet greats from the 1960’s, combined with thoughtful acting, marvelous technique, and a huge jump (I’ve espied her in company class holding her own with the men, and in some cases her jumping was even better). In a nutshell, she’s old school, it’s glorious, and there aren’t enough dancers like her out there today.

Unfortunately, I felt like casting was an issue because there didn’t seem to be a suitable partner for Imler. Batkhurel Bold was cast as the Basilio to her Kitri, and he’s a big guy known for his jumping as well, but he’s not exactly praised for his acting abilities. I really hate to say this because I’ve read so many reviews of his dancing before where he’s just criticized out the wazoo for not being the most expressive actor…but it’s true. It’s not as though there’s only one way to play Basilio, but I do think that he’s a character that at the very least requires charisma. It’s for that reason alone that I found it disappointing that Jonathan Porretta was not cast as Basilio—Porretta is one of PNB’s most vivacious performers and had the audience in stitches as Kitri’s absurd, French poodle of a suitor Gamache. I suspect type casting (Porretta is openly gay), though it’s possible that because of that ridiculously unfair one-arm lift in Act I, that logistically, the assumption was that there wasn’t a partner short enough for him. It’s ironic because the one-arm lift proved to be problematic for Bold as well, and I’m surprised that it wasn’t adjusted to something that could be accomplished cleanly. The ease in which a movement is executed is first and foremost in ballet and any overhead lift would have achieved the same dramatic effect, especially because in that awkward open second position Kitri does in the air, her dress ends up obscuring Basilio’s arm anyway. Towards the end of this clip, you can see Nakamura/Postlewaite performing this beastly lift:

 

Before I go back to gushing over Imler, I’m so glad that PNB posted the above video so we could get a glimpse at the Nakamura/Postlewaite partnership too. I had a feeling Postlewaite would be a very charming Basilio, and Nakamura is deliciously feisty. I adored those two in Giselle, but remembered that Nakamura/Porretta were fantastic in Le Baiser de la Fée and it would have been nice to see them in DonQ together as well. In fact, Imler/Postlewaite were amazing in Black Swan Pas from that same program, and it makes me wish that principal casting for DonQ could have been the same. Porretta would have even been great as Espada too, but no such luck there either.

Speaking of Espada, Jerome Tisserand was absolutely brilliant. When he was performing you literally couldn’t look at anyone else because his presence was so commanding. It was quite an auspicious occasion too because while his promotion to soloist has been known of since the end of last year, Saturday night was when it was consecrated on stage, and Peter Boal had him take bows before the show, and dressed in full costume he was almost in character the way he just lifted his arms, invoking a strong desire to shout “¡Olé!” He was perfect, as was Maria Chapman as the Queen of the Dryads. Soft and elegant, she did a tour jeté during one of her solos where her upper body was such at ease she was gliding rather than jumping. In that same scene, Rachel Foster was delightful as Cupid (even though I still hate that stupid wig she has to wear). However, it was in this scene in particular, where the ease in which Imler dances was especially apparent. The thing about Imler is that she makes things look so deceptively easy—whether it’s the suspension in her jumps or the sureness of her balance, she’s never shifting around to find her footing or exerting herself in a series of leaps.

Also in Act III, where Kitri and Basilio unleash the bravura in the ubiquitous wedding pas de deux, Imler was on. She has some of the best chaînés turns I’ve ever seen, which is kind of funny because it’s an underrated step—it’s always the first turning movement dancers learn in ballet, which also makes it the one prone to a lot of bad habits. Not so with Imler, who tightens the line through her legs and spots with dynamism. Obviously, her thirty-two fouettés were perfect, weaving in consistent doubles throughout while opening and closing a fan, sneaking in a triple when the music changed after the first sixteen, but it was probably her manége, where she performed simple piqué turns in a circle where she was most impressive. For those unfamiliar with the piqué turn it’s a common step where a dancer basically steps to the side onto a straight leg into a pirouette (rather than bending their knees and springing up into one), and sometimes that step gets big enough to be a little jump, and sometimes if you’re Carrie Imler you practically leap into them with crazy speed, never wavering in the slightest. It almost felt like the nail in the coffin for Bold, who was already at a disadvantage because of his quiet personality, but to have Imler looking so effortless made his incredibly difficult jumps look like work. As grand as they were, the exertion in doing them was also apparent.

All in all, I really enjoyed myself and the show was definitely highlighted by Imler, Tisserand, Poretta, and the majority of the cast, with much credit due to the acting of Tom Skerritt as Don Quixote and the comedic flourishes of Allen Galli as Sancho Panza. It was brilliant to generate some publicity with the involvement of a mainstream actor, and hopefully appeal to new audiences. After the success of Giselle, it seems Seattle audiences are excited by the inclusion of yet another new production of a story ballet to the repertory. I, for one, rather like this trend!

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8 Responses to “Long Overdue Review for DonQ”

  1. Britt February 14, 2012 at 11:12 am #

    I saw DonQ on the same night and your review perfectly captures how I felt about Imler, Bold, Jerome and Poretta. I also saw Imler perform the wedding pas de deux in a studio rehearsal and her piques brought a tear to my eye. Her speed is breathtaking, almost superhuman. I was looking at a NYCB tribute book the other day and noticed how some of Balanchine’s favorite female dancers (Suzanne Farrell, Allegra Kent) had a similar physique to Imler. That’s what gives her such incredible control and power. I hope we get to see more of her in full-length roles. Go Imler!

    • youdancefunny February 16, 2012 at 11:07 pm #

      I’m glad you feel the same way about her–she’s certainly loved!

      Although rather than the other full length this season, I think I want to see her in Apollo! I’m crossing my fingers that she’ll be cast as Terpsichore. I’m probably going to pass on Coppelia, but I do hope next season will yield a good story ballet for her.

      Basically, I want to see her in everything, but I do hope something virtuosic like ‘Theme and Variations’ or ‘Ballet Imperial’ is in the cards for her next season too!

  2. Katherine March 24, 2012 at 3:18 pm #

    Imler is wonderful! I didn’t see her as Kitri but I’ll always remember her Myrtha in Giselle.

    The performance I saw had Korbes and Kruz– they were a perfect match, love them both! Kruz had all the charisma of Basillo.

    The production was spectacular, the sets, costumes, and dancing were all great (love PNB!). My performance had Sarah Ricard Orza as the Queen and she danced very regally, such poise.

    But yes the story-line is a great weakness. Nevertheless it was such a joy to attend!

    • youdancefunny April 18, 2012 at 9:36 pm #

      Lucky duck! I wanted to see Carla too, but alas, I work nights.

      I would really love to see PNB get some more interesting story ballets. Just based on what I’ve heard from longtime goers, it seems the Maillot ‘Romeo et Juliette’ and Midsummer are among the more captivating…but perhaps an original creation? Then again, it seems the entire world is starved for new story ballets!

      • Katherine April 19, 2012 at 7:55 am #

        Yes, it does seem new story ballet’s are rare. Almost everything is abstract now or the same story with new choreography– not adverse to either (I’m very curious to hear about Wheeldon’s new Cinderella) but I too would love to see an original production! I should have mentioned story ballet’s are generally my favorites. :)

        Probably shouldn’t judge based off the DVDs but I’ve seen the Monte Carlo ballet performance of Maillot’s R&J, didn’t really like it. Midsummer I really hope to see live in the future. :)

  3. janelittledeer March 30, 2012 at 12:06 pm #

    Thank you for writing this! I am Jonathan Porretta’s mother and you brought tears to my eyes! You are 100 percent correct! Jonathan would have given 500 percent of himself to be an outstanding Basilio! Thank you again!

    • youdancefunny April 18, 2012 at 9:13 pm #

      Hi Jane! Thanks for commenting! It really is a shame that he didn’t get to do it–but I’ve really enjoyed watching your son dance at PNB, and I’m a big fan. I saw him twice in ‘Le Baiser de la Fée’ and he was exceptional each time! I’ll picket outside PNB if it’ll get him better roles! ;)

  4. janelittledeer March 30, 2012 at 12:11 pm #

    I just read this today 3/30/12 Thank you for writing this! My son is Jonathan Porretta and I agree with you 100 percent!
    ~Jane~

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