When George Balanchine created his "Don Quixote" in 1965, he told a collaborator that he could make the ballet because he had found a Dulcinea: the 19-year-old ballerina Suzanne Farrell. Now, after the ballet has lain dormant for nearly 30 years, Farrell has remounted it for her own company, a task that has recast her role.
Offstage, Farrell has become akin to the don himself, dreaming a noble but, to a certain degree, impossible dream. The ballet has deep flaws, both in construction and performance, even as it offers a rare glimpse into a different side of Balanchine than the abstract, neoclassical work that became his legacy.
Several organizations assisted Farrell in the restaging, which premiered Wednesday in the Kennedy Center's Opera House. Suzanne Farrell Ballet, a Kennedy Center-funded project, partnered with the National Ballet of Canada, sharing the cost of sets and costumes, and both companies contributed dancers.
Whereas Balanchine usually put his choreography in conversation with the music, the orchestral score by Nicolas Nabokov is, at best, complementary and never attains musical cohesion. For the ballet's story, Balanchine drew not upon the more familiar ballet of the same name, a romantic Russian version by Marius Petipa, but on the original Cervantes tale. Balanchine's primarily mimed depiction of the don and his knightly quest reflects a 19th-century approach, a confusing partner to the modern neoclassical movement that dominates the ballet's dancing.
The climax comes not in dance, but in a religious procession. The don survives beatings and blunders to return home, near death. Set designer Zack Brown created a bedroom from giant books, one of them a frequent door for Dulcinea, who always appears in soft, golden light. Now the book opens to the procession, including men bearing a giant wooden cross and ending with Dulcinea as the Virgin Mary. Religious transcendence comes to the don, who then dies in Dulcinea's arms.
In Wednesday's performance, the ballet's close was tender, but until the third act, that outcome seemed doubtful. Farrell mounted the production in five weeks, and many of the performances look harried -- particularly those of lead dancers Momchil Mladenov as the don and Sonia Rodriguez as Dulcinea. Mladenov aged in the course of the performance. Morphing from spirited to wounded and confused, Mladenov makes the latter state plausible, but until he settles into his body, his don evokes more laughs than sympathy.
Being cast as Dulcinea in this production may be the heaviest burden handed out in ballet's recent history. Only Farrell has ever danced the role (she had no understudy at New York City Ballet), and Dulcinea embodies Balanchine's vision of an ideal woman. Like Mladenov, Rodriguez grew in the course of the ballet, but her straightforward characterization and dancing make her Dulcinea dull.
In the third act, Rodriguez hints at the wildness that pulses within Dulcinea, but remains too vertical in her posture to set it free. In complicated turn sequences, Rodriguez never displaces her axis, carefully stepping into each turn. The don, and therefore his vision of Dulcinea, must act in desperation, continuing his quest because he cannot do anything else. Otherwise, he is just an addled old man disregarding society's pointing fingers.
The corps' dancing, whose necessity to the story is often questionable, looked ragged in the village scene, but by Act III's dance of the maidens, it began to jell. Soloists, mainly drawn from Farrell's dancers, vary widely in their performances; several were not well suited to Balanchine repertory. The many attitudes of Act II, performed in Balanchine's style -- almost rotated inward, with the leg swung high and to the back, knee bent, foot pointed to the head -- made several of the women look short and awkward. The exception, Natalia Magnicaballi, all limbs and long neck, exhibits the necessary ranginess.
In Act III's male variation, Alexander Ritter slipped and slid, coasting on his ballet slippers through piercing poses. Like Rodriguez, he too is a bit careful, but dynamism percolates just below the surface here. In Act II, Erin Mahoney and Runqiao Du in "Rigaudon Flamenco," Magnicaballi in the "Pas de Deux Mauresque," and Bonnie Pickard in "Ritournel" turned in able performances, though the sprightly Shannon Parsley struggled.
With the exception of a giant knight that fills the stage's full height, its fluorescent red eyes worthy of a "Star Wars" parody, Brown's newly designed sets accent the story without overwhelming it; likewise for Holly Hynes's simple costumes. Both were created with an eye toward touring, though no tour dates have been confirmed.
Ormsby Wilkins conducted the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra. Performances continue, with cast changes, through Sunday.