NJ Ballet's "Don Quixote" fills the stage with color and motion

NJ Ballet's "Don Quixote" fills the stage with color and motion

“Too much sanity may be madness. And maddest of all, to see life as it is and not as it should be.” – From “Don Quixote” by Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616)One hallmark of a great tale is that it doesn’t lose much in translation, whether into other languages or other media. Not only is Cervantes’ “Don Quixote” such a tale, it ranks among the world’s greatest. Cervantes’ massive, sprawling romance about an aged knight who decides to restore chivalry to a world grown ho-hum and hum-drum, accompanied by his earthy squire, Sancho Panza, is on everybody’s short list for the greatest novel ever written.

“Don Quixote” has inspired plays, films, paintings, operas and musicals, such as “Man of La Mancha.” It also inspired one of the most popular ballets in the repertory, which New Jersey Ballet will be dancing in full on Saturday, May 18 at the Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown. Ranked by The Star-Ledger as one of the Top Ten dance events of 2011, this production—fielding a cast of 40—is a “must-see” for balletomanes or anybody interested in dance as a medium for total theater.

Plays have scripts, music has scores and classic ballets have tradition—otherwise known as choreographic memory passed down from ballet master to ballet master. In modern times, many dances have been notated—true—and there’s always video, but the staging of a ballet created by Marius Petipa for Moscow’s Imperial Bolshoi Ballet in 1869 requires a link to a living tradition. That tradition was inherited and rejuvenated by Alexander Gorsky, who restaged “Don Quixote” in 1900. The version we know today is Gorsky’s, enriched here and there by later choreographers.

Providing that link for New Jersey Ballet is Albert Davydov, an internationally prize-winning dancer from Kazan, Russia, who has been associated with NJB as an artist and teacher since 2004. Davydov, 32, has danced “Don Quixote” numerous times both in Russia and in the United States, appearing in nearly all of the men’s roles. It’s his favorite ballet, he says.

“I like the opportunity for acting this ballet offers, and all the comedy, too. Everybody gets a good part, and the dancers get to show what they can do,” says Davydov, who has done NJB’s staging. It’s Davydov’s first project of such magnitude. The production is faithful to Gorsky, while including a tavern scene added to the ballet by Kasyan Goleizovsky in the 1940s, as well as “touches” here and there that are Davydov’s own.

Gorsky’s central position in Russian ballet is due to his strengthening of its theatrical elements. He took the great works of Petipa, “the father of classical ballet,” streamlined them so that the accent is as much on character and plot as on pure dance, and liberated the corps de ballet from a merely formal role to that of an assembly of individuals. Influenced by Constantin Stanislavsky—one of modern theater’s seminal directors— and by such proto-modernist choreographers as Loie Fuller and Isadora Duncan, Gorsky sought to ensure that Petipa’s masterpieces told a dramatically convincing story involving characters that audiences would care about. This “upped the ante” in classical ballet. Not only must dancers excel as classical stylists, they must excel as actors and comics, too.

There are easier things for a ballet company to do than full-length story ballets. But the classic story ballets are part of NJB’s DNA, through the company’s founder and director, Carolyn Clark, a former dancer with American Ballet Theatre. Then as now, ABT is all about dance as total theater, about a company as “a living museum” for a diversity of choreographic traditions. The esthetic that has been lighting up ABT since the late 1930s has been lighting up NJB since the late 1950s.

“We’re proud to do full-length ballets,” Clark says. “If you want to be taken seriously as a ballet company, you have to do them. Our ‘Nutcracker’ is in its 44th season and we’re still selling out. Over the years we’ve produced ‘Sleeping Beauty’ and ‘Giselle,’ and our revival of ‘La Esmeralda’ in 2004 attracted a lot of attention; it was the first staging ever in the United States. Our ‘Don Quixote’ got its start a few years back when Albert followed me down the hallway saying, ‘We have to do this ballet.’ And he was right,” Clark says with a smile.

Davydov was confident that NJB’s dancers were ready for “Don Quixote,” and Paul H. MacRae, NJB’s assistant director, was ready, too.

“We’re always looking to challenge the dancers, to push them, to see what they can do. We encourage them to expand their artistic horizons. And you always have to provide the junior members with the opportunity to prove themselves, to grow,” says MacRae, himself a veteran of NJB and Pittsburgh Ballet Theater. McRae, by the way, will be taking a star turn as Don Quixote. “A dream role,” he says.

NJB presents “Don Quixote” as prologue and three acts, including the ballet’s famous Dream Scene, all to Ludwig Minkus’s irresistible music.

According to NJB: “The story centers on Kitri, the headstrong daughter of an innkeeper, and her beau, Basilio, the village barber. The two young people are in love, but the innkeeper plans to marry off Kitri to Gamache, a foppish nobleman. As Kitri is refusing to obey her father, along comes Don Quixote, who confuses the situation by mistaking Kitri for Dulcinea, the imaginary lady of his dreams. His attempts to rescue Dulcinea and right the wrongs he imagines in his world keep the story moving until the young lovers can be wed in a grand celebration in the village square.”

Standout roles will be danced by Kotoe Kojima-Noa (Kitri/Dulcinea); Albert Davydov (Basilio); Vitaly Verterich (Gamache); Konstantin Kolotov (Sancho Panza); Ana Luiza Luizi (Street Dancer); Junio Teixeira (Espada); Kerry Mara Cox (Graziosa); Catherine Whiting (Cupid), and Ekaterina Smurova.

“Don Quixote” promises beauty, thrills, laughs and spectacle. NJB will be dancing on Saturday, May 18, at 8 p.m. at the Mayo Performing Arts Center, 100 South St.,  Morristown. Tickets range from $29 through $59 and can be ordered through the Mayo box office: 973-539-8008,

New Jersey Ballet on the web:

Colin Hay at Appel Farm Arts & Music Festival

Colin Hay at Appel Farm Arts & Music Festival

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