Atlanta Ballet: Don Quixote

I mentioned to a friend at work on Wednesday or Thursday how I wasn’t feeling excited about going to the ballet this weekend. It was purely my mood at the time, though, and had more to do with my general lack of interest in anything at all and nothing to do with my expectations. I wasn’t really able to shake that feeling by the time Saturday rolled around and I was worried because Atlanta Ballet tends to program their February show to be more accessible to a non-dance audience. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does generally mean that it will be an evening-length narrative ballet with nothing particularly avant or challenging for the audience. That, of course, means that if I wasn’t able to feel drawn into the work then I’d not be able to fall back on my general interest in the art as an art. Fortunately, just as children often have misgivings about taking a bath and then won’t get out of the tub until the water is cold and their skin has wrinkled, I found myself happily drawn into the show once “Don Quixote” began.

This particular version of the ballet was a reworking of Petipa’s classic choreography by Possokhov, though possibly with bits of Gorsky’s expansion in there, as well, based on a quick lookup of where the Street Dancer character came from. I haven’t seen the Petipa in some time, and even then I’ve never seen it live, but the staging and structure seemed pretty much the same from what I could recall. Act II seemed to be somewhat abbreviated, with some of the story told through projected pictures animated using the Ken Burns effect. There were some other projections at the beginnings of scenes that helped set the stage, but otherwise the scenes were well set by fairly well designed set pieces and fairly good costuming, with the exception of the windmill scene, which used projected animations of windmills turning into a dragon (rather than giants, for some reason).

The story is, of course, more homage to Cervantes’ novel than a retelling of story. There are a lot of little tips of the hat to real things in the novel, though, to keep fans happy. It’s a lot like “The Man of La Mancha” in that way. I’ve only read the first book, but I don’t know how you’d stage it without Don Quixote coming across as a monster since he caused serious harm to a lot of people, including himself, in his chivalric quest. And I’ll be seriously impressed by the person who can choreograph the literary critique from the novel as a recognizable narrative ballet. The whole point was to satirize the stories of the chivalric knights errant that had been popular at the time that it was written, though by the late 19th century, as now, it was read with admiration for Don Quixote’s devotion to his ideal of chivalry.

The choreography was still mostly classical in style but it seems to have been updated to be a bit more fluid and expressive. It wasn’t as pretty as the Petipa and it felt a bit clunky in some parts. However, it was also a little more narratively coherent and a little more fun. It still used heavy amounts of pantomime and the titular character and a few others were mimed more than danced. In fact, they brought in a guest artist to play the knight of the sad face and CDE faculty for some of the other less dancey roles.

The performance was good. ABC’s ensemble work continues to improve and I look forward to seeing what they look like a few years down the road once more than half the company have been dancing together for a while. Attention to rhythm and blocking were solid. The soloists were generally very good. There were imperfections, but they were small and the recoveries were impressively graceful and kept anything from being noticeably disrupted. In some ways, this makes me happier than seeing a work performed perfectly.

Overall, I enjoyed it but I’m not sure that Possokhov added anything meaningful to Petipa’s work for me. As I mentioned, I felt it was a little clunky here and there. I think that I’d rather have seen a completely new work rather than a reworking of a piece that I already consider to be good. For a balletomane, it probably wasn’t worth the licensing fee to do this version instead of Petipa’s. However, I think that it may have been more accessible to a broader audience and, as far as that goes, it’s a decent work to program for a February show.

With Possokhov doing next year’s “Nutcracker,” hopefully there will be more room on the program for other artists. While I’ve enjoyed what I’ve seen of his work, it’s not good enough for me to want to see something of his every year. He’s enjoyable but not particularly adventurous and I suspect that I’ll grow weary of his choreographic style if it’s over-presented. He’s already the choreographer in residence at SF Ballet; perhaps Nedvigin should try to make sure that ABC has an identity of its own rather than looking like the southeastern version of his previous employer.

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