Lovers’ attempts to thwart parental disapproval are old news in the theater, from “Romeo and Juliet” to “Fiddler on the Roof.” The ballet “Don Quixote” tells that story, too. So how has the Royal Ballet managed to make it feel so fresh and alive?
There is a terrific hunger to its “Don Quixote,” which opened Tuesday at the Kennedy Center Opera House. Even the corps de ballet is animated with passionate self-expression, which sets the tone for the whole show.
At three hours, the production needs a strong engine, and on opening night it got one with two stars of rare perfection — Marianela Núñez as Kitri and Carlos Acosta as Kitri’s beloved, Basilio, the man who falls below her father’s standards. That’s okay, for he’s a fantastic match for ours.
At 42 — an advanced age by ballet standards — and in what may be his final appearances in Washington, the Cuban-born Acosta swept us all into what looked like his dream-come-true. He has inhabited Basilio hundreds and hundreds of times, but Tuesday he was as spontaneous, delighted and buoyant as if he had just been given the role of a lifetime.
It was a gift to himself, for Acosta also staged the ballet (largely hewing to the original by Marius Petipa). But it was also a gift for us: He gave the audience plenty of time to savor his high vertical jump; his long, elegantly stretched line from fingers to toes; and the sharp action of his legs. Best of all was his living energy, a commitment to telling the story.
He and Núñez communicated throughout the ballet with vivid gestures, body language, cutting looks and a kind of sixth sense possessed by the rare dance partnership, which enables them to fall in step and match their moves. But Acosta was not only a sassy and stalwart partner. (His one-handed lifts drew gasps.) With eloquent gestures, he connected with everyone onstage and with the audience. After one solo, he acknowledged the applause with a gracious flourish to the Opera House orchestra; after another, he saluted the uppermost balconies. Here was the embodiment of charm.
As for Núñez, from her entrance to her exit, I found myself thinking: I am in love with her technique. It was so light, so effortless. She was always in agile equilibrium. She’d come to rest, suspended in an airy balance, and then transform even her descent into a dance, too, with a flirtatious roll of her shoulders and a melting suppleness from head from toes. This flow from a crisp position to her next move is what makes her dancing so interesting. She is both definite and fluid, while not turning her classical perfection into a distracting show of strength.
It was all part of the character of Kitri — generous, confident and a fighter, as her disapproving father found out. And always with a smile to light up the stage.
If Núñez reminded you of the just-retired American Ballet Theatre principal Paloma Herrera, as she did me, it may be because they are both Argentine. Do they teach a special course in joy in Buenos Aires?
Acosta’s production is exceptionally lively in its pacing and emotional energy. Nice additions include a real Dulcinea appearing to Don Quixote in the prologue. In most versions, this is a pantomime scene for the lonely knight, but here there was a lovely, musical pas de deux between the old Don in his pajamas and a veiled ballerina in white, as the vision of ideal womanhood who inspires the aging warrior to take up one more quest.
Acosta also has an eye for visual texture onstage. Dancers leap atop ox carts and tables. Best of all, he also takes the audience up there, with theatrical touches that direct the eye and make you feel part of a joyous celebration — and a memorable farewell.
Through Sunday at the Kennedy Center Opera House, 2700 F St. NW. Tickets: $30-$155. Call 202-467-4600 or visit www.kennedy-center.org. (Note: Núñez and Acosta dance again on Friday.)