‘Don Quixote’ boldly delivers at Kennedy Center


Gillian Murphy in the American Ballet Theatre's "Don Quixote. The production of Cervantes’s seminal work offers some thrills despite departing from the original. (Gene Schiavone)

In Miguel de Cervantes’s seminal novel “Don Quixote,” the titular character sets out on an impassioned quest to prove the importance of chivalry.

And even though the ballet adaptation of the story differs wildly from the original, it seems safe to say the fictional madman would be pleased with how he comes off in it: He gets the credit for selflessly bringing together the ballet’s heroine, Kitri, and her peasant lover, Basilio. In doing so, he makes a happy ending for the earnest everyman and thwarts the smarmy aristocrat who also vies for Kitri’s affections.

American Ballet Theatre brought this Marius Petipa work to the Kennedy Center on Thursday and delivered a performance that was consistently fleet and gutsy and, in its best moments, even thrilling.

When Marcelo Gomes first takes the stage as Basilio, it’s not hard to see why Kitri falls for him. He’s effortlessly cool, impossibly handsome, and while he fawns over Kitri, he has a flirtatious streak that keeps her on her toes. Gomes’s dancing was commanding and only seemed to grow more so throughout the production. The takeoff of his jumps demonstrated his raw power. When he landed them without a wobble, you saw his extraordinary sense of control.

His partner, Gillian Murphy, danced the role of Kitri with the crispness of a fall breeze. The pace of the dancing in this work often borders on breakneck, and she stayed on top of it thanks to remarkable economy of movement. Her grand jetes exploded into the air, but they did not hang there, allowing her to speedily attack the next step. Her pointe shoes pierced the floor like darts in a string of pique turns, and that intense precision helped her travel the full length of the stage.

The dancers’ allure in this production was finely matched by Santo Loquasto’s gorgeous costumes and his sumptuous set design. The bullfighters popped in their cerulean jackets accented by rich red cummerbunds. The partygoers’ off-shoulder, tiered-ruffle dresses with a smattering of sparkle were the height of fantasy and sensuality.

Loquasto’s scenery and props set the mood in an instant. When the iconic windmill was revealed for the first time, its towering, foreboding construction drew audible gasps from the audience. Glittering lanterns added elegant romance to the wedding scene, and bohemian tapestries brought a carefree vibe to the gypsy enclave.

It was in that gypsy camp that we saw the edgiest dancing of the evening. The group of men, led by Luis Ribagorda, went for broke with each jump, springing into the air with last-night-on-earth abandon. Luciana Paris, the lead female gypsy, torched the stage with her seductive energy. With the serpentine curve of her back and her low gaze, she was the kind of vixen that even the most confident of women would not want within a mile of her boyfriend.

Paris gets only a few minutes in the spotlight, and yet somehow her performance sticks with you much longer than that of Stella Abrera, whose turn as street dancer Mercedes called for similar character traits and gave her much more stage time. Abrera was too studied and prim, never allowing us to see this character in full bloom.

Overall, the performances added up to an enjoyable production, although one key change might have made it more potent. Murphy was spotless and enthusiastic, but she danced Kitri with girl-next-door charm. This production truly soars when Kitri is a shade more reckless and has a bit more sizzle. This is, after all, a gal that splits town with her boyfriend on a lark and makes an impromptu pit stop with a hard-partying group of gypsies. Kitri should not just beguile us; she should make us a little nervous. And with Murphy, we never felt the danger that she might go off the rails.

American Ballet Theatre performs “Don Quixote” through Sunday at the Kennedy Center.

Sarah Halzack is The Washington Post's national retail reporter. She has previously covered the local job market and the business of talent and hiring. She has also served as a Web producer for business and economics news.
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