With the snow showering down outside, watching the Bolshoi Ballet perform "Don Quixote" yesterday afternoon felt like basking in the glow of a raging furnace. So hot was the action onstage, in fact, that at times it felt as though all the air was being sucked out of the Kennedy Center Opera House. Credit the collective breathlessness to the astoundingly proficient lead couple, Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev.
As the Bolshoi has proved in its past visits, the company can be counted on to deliver a knockout "Don Quixote." This production, spruced up by the company's former director Alexei Fadeyechev following the classic 19th-century outlines, explodes with bravura dancing as well as an orgiastic fullness of detail -- declarative character dancing, passionate Gypsies and a palpably warm Spanish setting stamped meaningfully on everything. So fireworks in the role of flirtatious Kitri and her wily beau, Basil, are nothing new. But 21-year-old Osipova, with her generous, catlike spring, and 18-year-old Vasiliev, who balances power with precision, dethrone the stars of the recent past.
It's no exaggeration to say that the stage was scarcely big enough to contain them. In the second-act tavern scene, Osipova shot through the air with such speed, and Vasiliev caught her with such daredevil, last-minute timing, backing up as she flew toward him, that he was nearly in the orchestra pit when she landed in his arms. At the ballet's climax, Osipova traveled across the stage with such a blistering series of turns that she was all but in the wings by the time her music ended.
Vasiliev is in his first season with the Bolshoi, fresh from winning the prestigious Grand Prix at the International Ballet Competition in Varna, Bulgaria. He packs surprising strength into quite a small frame, and his only future difficulty may be finding suitable partners who are petite enough. When he balanced Osipova high over his head with one hand, making this trademark Bolshoi lift look ridiculously easy, only the percussionist in the pit seemed to get a workout: He had to keep a drumroll going for the eternity that Vasiliev held her up there. Yes, the young man is a shameless showoff: Why do a triple pirouette when there's music enough for 10? Why just jump when you can rocket to the lighting grid and throw in some revolutions before landing, soft as silk? But he didn't push the steps out of focus; he didn't sacrifice purity of form. Vasiliev's turns were especially wondrous, whizzing crisply at high velocity and then slowing to a musically timed finish with masterly control.
The young pair was not the only reason for rejoicing, however. This ballet was cast from strength throughout. Yuliana Malkhasyants was a feverish, tear-soaked Gypsy Dancer, reliving some searing emotional upheaval with each snap of her skirts. Vitaly Biktimirov brought a predatory command to the role of the cape-swirling Toreador, prowling the stage as if he were hungry for his own chance to hoist up a woman with one hand.