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Don Qonfused

2 Nov

So I sat down and watched ABT’s Don Quixote with Cynthia Harvey and Baryshnikov.  I actually hadn’t seen a full production of DonQ before, only the countless variations and grand pas de deux on YouTube.  For whatever reason, the roles of Kitri and Basil seem to be epitomized by many, discussed and compared more than any other role I can think of, and apparently if you’re a good Kitri/Basil that means you’ve really achieved something in ballet.  Personally, I’ve long wondered why this ballet seems to be at the top of so many peoples’ favorites lists, and I’ve decided it’s because nobody is evil and nobody dies.  In that sense, it’s perhaps easier to relate to the characters because most people don’t have pure villains and melodramatic deaths in their daily lives.  But something like parentally encouraged betrothals (while different in modern times) still has some relevance.  DonQ is one giant celebration with a lot of fun moments and I suppose for dancers and fans alike it can be a relief to escape from the intensely serious and have some lighthearted fun.  And if you know me, I’m all about lighthearted fun and having a good time.  I would probably label DonQ as Petipa’s attempt at a sitcom.

However, while watching this DonQ, I found myself extremely confused.  For one thing I’ve owned the soundtrack for a couple of years (yes, even without having seen the ballet.  Buying it seemed like a good idea at the time, even if I can’t find the words to rationalize it now).  Things were out of order, and certain flourishes are not in the particular recording I own.  Perhaps it was the placement of the camera mics, but the french horns were raging off the charts, especially in Kitri’s act I variation and the flutes were noodling like crazy during the fouettes for the coda.  It made the soundtrack bizarrely unfamiliar, and somewhat disturbing.  I also got lost with the libretto, because I only read the synopsis from The Ballet Goer’s Guide, which lists four acts.  However, what I so carefully failed to read in the little history blurb was that Baryshnikov cut a lot of content and switched the order of the dream sequence and tavern scene, for a total of three acts.  Apparently it was his way of rationalizing certain aspects of the libretto, but I ended up getting lost anyway.  Like the scene where he fakes his death and somehow manages to trick Kitri’s parents into letting them get married made no sense to me…I just didn’t get that from what was actually being performed on stage.  And I don’t know what Basil pretends to stab himself with in other productions, but the humongous barber’s razor just made me laugh, and was impossible to take “seriously.”

There was a lot going on though…like random bits by Gamache and corps members in the coda that I’ve never seen in other clips and on the topic of those characters, man alive does DonQ boast a big cast.  So big, in fact I didn’t quite figure out who everyone was.  Obviously I recognized Kitri and Basil, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Gamache is impossible to miss (and one of the highlights of this production)…but who’s Espada?  Lorenzo?  Mercedes?  And that Cupid thing…what’s her purpose?  Queen of the Dryads?  Will the REAL Dulcinella please stand up?  Who are all these people and why are they in this ballet?  And why is the ballet even called Don Quixote when he has next to nothing to do with the main plot?  It’s all difficult to rationalize and made me feel like I’m might just start seeing monsters in lieu of windmills any minute now.  Although I’m sure many of these characters don’t appear in the novel, perhaps having read it would at least provide insight into the character of Don Quixote himself (I read that Nureyev himself thought Don Quixote was a fool, until he read the book).  As it stands, I have not read the book and my only conception of Don Quixote is from that cartoon Don Coyote and Sancho Panda.  That and the fact that Don Quixote is the name of a chain of convenience stores equivalent to CVS, but in Japan, with the most obnoxious jingle on Earth.  While you shop, you are subjected to this heinous tune with the lyrics “Don, Don, Don, Don, Ki…Don Ki-hooooo-teeeeeee” the ENTIRE TIME.  I’m still haunted by it, so I’ll spare you the jingle, but here’s the opening for the cartoon, for anyone else who wants a taste of nostalgia:

So back to the ballet…I wasn’t a huge fan of the “after Petipa” choreography, as it was…kind of boring (eek!).  There wasn’t much substance until the man himself, Baryshnikov stepped onto the stage.  I actually found it rather bombastic that he would produce and choreograph a ballet on himself.  Not that it couldn’t or shouldn’t be done…I’m just skeptical that one man can really do it all.  Not even Carlos Acosta starred in his own ballet, Tocororo, which I think is important if you’re going to put your name on something.  It’s one thing to do a solo or a piece, but an entire ballet requires a watchful eye from where the audience is sitting, and so that when there is an audience they do indeed get the entire picture of the ballet as a whole.  Personally I think it’s a lot to ask of an audience to have them sit through a couple of hours of ballet just to see the star.  Of course we pick which castings we want to go to, but we want to enjoy the entire ballet, not sit around and wait for it to highlight one dancer.  There was fantastic dancing being done from supporting cast members like the colossal Patrick Bissell and Susan Jaffe, but it didn’t seem like there was much care to make them look good.

Baryshnikov was fantastic and did amazing pirouettes en dehors in arabesque which are kind of a signature move for Basils (and I think they are among the witchiest pirouettes of ALL TIME.  Those and en dedans a la seconde…I hate those), but I loved Cynthia Harvey and she made the production for me.  She was saucy and coy, elvish and frisky.  She was everything she needed to be at the appropriate moments and a wonderful technician to boot.  I was so captivated by her that she was far more memorable to me than Baryshnikov.  She was positively brilliant in act I, and is well worth the watch.  I just hope anyone else who watches this as their first Don Q isn’t as ill-prepared as I was! (and seriously pay attention to the french horns and low brass in the second variation…WHAAAAT?!?!)