No Download Queue for DonQ

18 Jul

Having media “on demand” is all the rage these days, isn’t it? While I’m still nostalgic for the bygone era of going to the local Blockbuster with your two best friends and spending over an hour just trying to pick a movie to rent because the three of you can’t unanimously agree on anything (or one of them cheated by seeing the movie beforehand), I must concede that this time honored tradition is defunct. I’m not necessarily complaining though, because the convenience is quite worth it, and the borrowing experience with its serendipitous treasures and impossibly bad finds is easily replaced by using libraries anyway. Even paying my overdue fees fulfills a certain sense of sentimentality—though I like to call them “accumulating donations,” because when you really think about it, giving the library that money means you’re receiving due date extensions as “donor benefits.”

A video-on-demand source like Amazon’s Instant Video doesn’t offer such a courtesy, but it is a great resource nonetheless, and several ballets have already been made available. One of the newest is Alexei Ratmansky’s version of Don Quichot, performed by the Dutch National Ballet and filmed just in September of 2010. Now, if you have a Twitter and Amazon account, this is the part where you check out this link here, where a simple Tweet will earn you a $5 credit towards an online video rental! It’s totally legitimate and I myself did it in order to watch Don Quichot for free! I repeat—this is not a scam, but you must hurry because it does expire July 19th (11:59 PM, PST). Unfortunately, it’s likely this promotion isn’t available to overseas viewers, but you never know when similar deals will pop up. As an added bonus, after paying the $3.99 to rent Don Quichot for three days, you’ll even have $1.01 leftover to use towards something else!

While it’s no secret I’m not a fan of DonQ (I reviewed the old ABT production with Cynthia Harvey and Baryshnikov here ages ago, and since then have had no love for the Don), I did want to see Ratmansky’s staging because I enjoy his work, I adore the Dutch National Ballet, and Pacific Northwest Ballet will be doing the American premiere of his choreography next season. Unfortunately, not even Ratmansky could make me change my mind completely, though not for a lack of trying. In fact, I think this is an excellent DonQ, as Ratmansky has created a vibrant, tasteful production that breathes life into all characters, and makes one of the most illogical stories in all of ballet almost semi-tolerable. It’s weird because you would think I would have no problem with a comedic ballet and I have certainly have no qualms with the idea of it (hello, Ashton junkie here!) but there’s a disconnect in DonQ that I can’t seem to overcome. While I enjoy the technical fireworks at every turn, I think what’s missing for me is that the comedy really isn’t told through the steps (which is exactly where Ashton excelled). The comedy is grounded in the mime, and although Peter de Jong (Don Quichot) and Karel de Rooij (Sancho Panza) are outstanding actors (really, some of the best I’ve seen in ballet), my sanity needs just one thread of relevance to tie it all together, which is never given. Even Ratmansky admits that the story makes no sense and is really just to be taken as an evening of entertainment, but when you think as much as I do, there’s only so much aimless fun you can tolerate before asking questions like “why should I care about these characters interacting in a series of unrelated events?”

An interview with Alexei Ratmansky about the story of Don Quichot:

 

 

If anything, one should care when the principal roles of Kitri and Basilio are danced by Anna Tsygankova and Matthew Golding, who share a wonderful chemistry together. I’ve praised Tsygankova before for her performance in Giselle, and she is a beacon of charisma in the role of Kitri as well. I find myself loving her even more now that I’ve seen her versatility as an artist, because I think Kitri is often relegated to a rather shallow portrayal of a youthful girl with a huge grin splashed upon her face, but Tsygankova has such a full presence on stage she weaves an aura of maturity with mischief into the character. Her technique is of course marvelous; there were moments in the first act right before Basilio’s entrance where she lingered in these balances in attitude, just a hair longer than most dancers can manage, putting on a show of her dexterity but in the most refined way. Her movements are always so clear, her facial expressions so perfect, and she has an uncanny ability to find these fifth positions on pointe that don’t move at all, and it makes an enormous difference in the way she’s able to shape the phrases because there’s no little shifts of the feet or rolling off the box a bit. Though Tsygankova may not have the highest extensions, the springiest jumps, or the most difficult bravura steps in her arsenal (though fouettés into double pirouettes while opening and closing a fan are no insignificant feat!), she is just so damn well rounded that when I watch her I really think to myself “this…is ballet.”

Matthew Golding is a new face for me (unless he’s hidden somewhere in Giselle) and it’s a face that bears a remarkable resemblance to Brad Pitt—though Golding is better looking, and more talented in my humble opinion (I’m guessing taller too). True to the aesthetic and artistic values of the Dutch National Ballet, Golding has sublime technique, a beautiful line with enviable feet, and a genteel charm that suits him as Basilio. Though he is an expressive performer, it surely isn’t all an act for him because apparently he’s valorous in life too—when Roberto Bolle cancelled guest appearances in the Tokyo Ballet’s production of Swan Lake due to the ongoing nuclear crisis as a result of the disastrous tsunami that hit the Tohoku region, Golding stepped in to give the Japanese people inspirational performance art in dark times. What a guy! Can’t say chivalry is dead with the likes of Golding around (and while I’m not judging Bolle, I might be raising an eyebrow…this isn’t the first and surely won’t be the last time he cancels a performance for personal reasons). Golding’s Basilio channels some of his lionhearted quality, and is virtually impossible not to love because he’s so genuine and unpresumptuous. A virtuoso and a gracious partner, the beastly one-armed lifts he does in the first act are beyond impressive. I know masculinity need not be defined purely in terms of brute strength, but all credit to him and the hours spent in the gym!
A nice interview with Tsygankova and Golding:

 

There’s a lot to love about this DonQ, including a fun moment where Don Quichot sees his vision of Dulcinea for the first time in a window, which I thought was like a little nod to La Sylphide, and while other characters like Espada, Mercedes, etc. have no legitimate relevance to the story, I enjoyed each dancer’s performance, from the soloists to the corps. The only thing I outright disliked was Cupid’s wig, which just looked too much like it was plucked out of a 70’s sitcom. Overall, I feel comfortable recommending Don Quichot to others because I really do think it’s a good one (even if I still dislike the libretto and the score), and I can enjoy watching it even if I’ll never love it, so don’t let my sourness deter you from watching what is in fact a fun ballet. Ratmansky certainly had a clear vision of what he wanted and really just succeeded in making DonQ exactly what it is and needs to be.

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One Response to “No Download Queue for DonQ”

  1. philjackman August 14, 2013 at 2:15 pm #

    I’m a latecomer to ballet I regret to say but have been watching Don Quichot on Sky Arts 2. They have a reasonable amount of dance showing and is worth a look. Anna Tsygankova is a fabulous dancer and her dancing with Matthew Golding stood out for me as just brilliant. I coudl watch their performances at the wedding scene over and over again.

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