Mikhail Baryshnikov's engaging production of the Russian 19th-century classic "Don Quixote" for American Ballet Theatre returned to the Kennedy Center last night in a rousing, effervescent performance that had the audience cheering as loudly as at any time thus far during the company's visit.
In Baryshnikov's staging, the ballet -- with a plot loosely based on an incident in the Cervantes novel -- becomes a farcical romp amidst its period trappings. Its speed, horseplay and general air of self-parody make it as akin to a Broadway musical as the balletic tradition. Ludwig Minkus' lightweight, catchy and by no means unskilleful score, especially in Patrick Flynn's deliberately raucous arrangement, further abets the merriment.
Last year Anthony Dowell made his debut in the chief male dancing role of Basil, a penurious rogue of a barber. He revealed an unsuspected talent for commedy that was amply reconfirmed last night. Aside from a few shaky bravura passages, his dancing was as brilliant as it was dashing. He's also found a few new, effective bits of comic business for the expository first act. f
Opposite Dowell was Cynthia Harvey as Kitri, the innkeeper's daughter. Harvey, an ABT soloist, was one of the original Flower-Girls in the ballet's world premiere here two years back. Not only has she done the larger part of Mercedes, she also substituted for injured Kitris in the production's accident-prone past. This season, however, marks her first full possession of the role, and she scores a decided personal hit with it.Her dark prettiness and saucy air suit her well to the part, as do the fleetness, agility and assuredness of her dancing.
The chemistry between Harvey and Dowell was just right, too. They played so charmingly to each other that even the purely comic scenes retained that edge of real sentiment without which the whole ballet suffers, descending into inconsequential slapstick and divertissement.
Another value of the production, however, is the rich array of colorful subsidiary and character roles that gives so much of the company a chance to demonstrate hidden resources. A number of dancers who held such roles in the premiere performance repeated their savory characterizations last night -- Victor Barbee as the effete popinjay who is a rival for Kitri's hand; Frank Smith as Kitri's ludicrously oafish father; Rebecca Wright, making a perfect gem of the part of Amour in the Dream sequence; and Alexander Minz and Enrique Martinez as the questing Quizote and his bumbling sidekick, Sancho Panza.
Also especially worthy of citation were Johan Renvall, displaying his characteristic flair in the newly fleshed-out part of a would-be matador; Janet Shibata for her beautifully danced variation in the Dream; Richard Schafer, not ideally cast as Espada the matador, but much improved in the role; and Kristine Elliot for her Flower-Girl variation. John Lanchberry's conducting was on the driven side, but kept things rhythmically bracing throughout.