Saturday, June 8, 2024

Olé! Don Quixote Sweeps Toronto Off Its Feet

Rex Harrington (centre) and Jason Ferro (left) withaArtists of the Ballet in Don Quixote. (Photo: Karolina Kuras)

The National Ballet of Canada's North American premiere of Carlos Acosta's vibrant production of Don Quixote is an unmitigated triumph – a distinctive reimagining that breathes new life into this classic work originating from Marius Petipa's 19th-century Russian choreography. Acosta cemented his reputation as one of the greatest male dancers of his generation through his performances as the dashing barber Basilio, a central role in Don Quixote. With this production, first premiered by the Royal Ballet in 2013 and later remounted for Birmingham Royal Ballet in 2022, Acosta puts his stamp on a work that showcased his talents throughout his illustrious career. The production opened at Toronto's Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts on June 1, with performances running until June 9.

From the moment the curtain rises on Tim Hatley's sun-drenched Spanish village set, the energy is electric. Acosta's choreography seamlessly blends classical ballet's most dazzling pyrotechnics with robust character dancing redolent of flamenco's earthy passion. The result is a vivacious whirlwind of movement that never lets up over the course of three acts.

At the centre of the madcap romantic romp are the young lovers Kitri and Basilio. As the feisty innkeeper's daughter, Genevieve Penn Nabity is a dynamo, dispatching the role's fiendish technical challenges with insouciant ease. Her fouetté turns are a blur of precision, and her jumps soar to stratospheric heights. Harrison James matches her as an ardent, athletic Basilio, his leaps and spins propelled by a youthful exuberance.

But Don Quixote is very much an ensemble piece, and the entire company rises to the occasion magnificently. The Act I town square scene overflows with vivid characterizations, from Christopher Gerty cutting a dashing, commanding figure as the matador Espada, to Monika Haczkiewicz mesmerizing with her sultry portrayal of the Spanish dancer Mercedes. Tene Ward and Jeanine Haller etch indelible portraits as Kitri's scene-stealing best friends.

Acosta has judiciously expanded the roles of the delusional Don Quixote and his loyal squire Sancho Panza, allowing Rex Harrington and Jason Ferro to mine deeper reserves of pathos and comedic gold respectively. Their vaudeville-inspired antics inject a delightfully madcap element, reaching a hilarious peak when the Don mistakes a bedpost for his lance.

Genevieve Penn Nabity and Harrison James in Don Quixote. (Photo:Karolina Kuras)

The dream sequence of Act II transports us to an enchanted forest where Calley Skalnik reigns supreme as the ethereal Queen of the Dryads. Her crystalline technique and sculptural line are impeccable. As Amour, David Preciado brings a dazzling bravura to the role, attacking the fiendishly difficult variation with infectious bravado.

If there's a quibble, it's that the foppish nobleman Gamache, played with delicious overstatement by Donald Thom, veers towards caricature. But far from being a misstep, Thom's hilariously captivating performance is one of the production's comic highlights.

Acosta's staging boasts countless felicitous touches that elevate the work. The Roma couple of Selene Guerrero-Trujillo and Josh Hall smoulder in their Act II pas de deux. Alexandra MacDonald's Dulcinea is the epitome of classical grace and beauty. And the climactic wedding scene is a kaleidoscope of vibrant folk dances.

Praise must also go to David Briskin and the National Ballet Orchestra for their buoyant rendition of Ludwig Minkus' effervescent score. The familiar melodies have never sounded fresher or more irresistible. 

With this Don Quixote, Acosta has crafted a production that marries theatrical bravura with classical rigour. It's a spectacular showcase for the National Ballet's prodigious talents across every rank. The opening night audience greeted the final bows with a sustained, well-deserved ovation. This is world-class dance-making of the highest order.

– Deirdre Kelly is a Toronto-based journalist, author and internationally recognized dance critic and style writer on staff at The Globe and Mail newspaper from 1985 to 2017. She writes for Dance Magazine in New York, the Dance Gazette in London, and NUVO in Vancouver, and is a contributor to the International Dictionary of Ballet and AWOL: Tales for Travel-Inspired Minds. The best-selling author of Paris Times Eight and Ballerina: Sex, Scandal and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection, she is a two-time recipient (2020 and 2014) of Canada’s Nathan Cohen Prize for outstanding critical writing. In 2017, she joined York University as Editor of the award-winning The York University Magazine where she is also the publication’s principal writer. In 2023, she published her latest book, Fashioning The Beatles: The Looks That Shook The World.



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