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Royal Ballet's Feisty New 'Don Quixote'

Carlos Acosta (Basilio) and Marianela Nuñez (Kitri) in Don Quixote, Royal Ballet (photo by Dave Morgan)

The Royal Ballet has come from London to the Kennedy Center Opera House for the week. The residency is devoted entirely to the U.S. premiere of Carlos Acosta's freshening-up of Petipa's classic (read: moldy) choreography of Don Quixote, which was last seen here from the Mariinsky Ballet in 2009. The British company was ready for a hit after its last two visits to the area, a somewhat old-fashioned The Sleeping Beauty in 2006 and, by all accounts, a truly odd Manon in 2009. Acosta has made the most significant changes to the second act, getting rid of the puppet theater episode, but he also changes the role of Don Quixote by creating a separate role for Dulcinea, who appears in several dream-like visions, elevating the old man's story, making it more noble instead of allowing him always to be ridiculed. My only wish was that Acosta had eliminated some of the less distinguished music from the lackluster score by Ludwig Minkus, which at full length ran to three hours with two intermissions. Getting rid of the dullest twenty or thirty minutes would be a blessing.

This performance managed (mostly) to sustain interest largely because of the star pairing of Acosta himself and Marianela Nuñez as Basilio and Kitri. Nuñez is a sassy dynamo as Kitri, bursting onto the stage in Act I in her red costume, and giving Basilio, her father, and everyone else a run for their money with her pert gestures. In that first scene together, she and Acosta one-up each other in a love-hate dynamic, him stealing her fan and making the same imperious gesture with it that she does, her mocking his confident swagger with his own guitar. When they come together, to that lovely cello solo, they melted into one another, Acosta supporting Nuñez with one arm while he held his guitar in the other. Nuñez is a musical dancer, always moving in a way that suggests visually that the pulse of the music is flowing through her. Acosta's strength is his magnetism, especially now that his youth and strength are waning: in the Act I finale, Basilio holds Kitri fully over his head, while she stretches one leg straight up in the air, during which Acosta wavered in a way that wracked the nerves.

Other Reviews:

Sarah Kaufman, ‘Don Quixote’: Flirting with greatness (Washington Post, June 10)

Carolyn Keleman, The Royal Ballet’s ‘Don Quixote’ at The Kennedy Center (D.C. Metro Theater Arts, June 10)
Kristen McNally gave a delicate, noble air to the role of Dulcinea, first appearing to Don Quixote (an earnest Christopher Saunders) in his bedroom during the prologue, in a while veil and mostly en pointe like one of the Wilis. At that point, too, Acosta introduces another figment of Don Quixote's imagination, a group of black-hooded apparitions, probably derived from the funeral procession episode in the novel, who later whisk Sancho Panza (athletic and buffoonish Philip Mosley) away as Don Quixote finds himself in the land of the dryads. The designs by Tim Hatley are all quite impressive: a huge piazza of rolling buildings in Act I; a glowing sunset behind vines for Act II, with a windmill that grows more menacing in size; and especially a luscious land of the dryads, with enormous purple flowers and rolling fog, the background for a delightful ballet blanc featuring the ethereal corps de ballet.

Sadly, Acosta kept all the toreador business, although Ryoichi Hirano and Laura Morera were a beautiful couple as Espada and Mercedes. Melissa Hamilton was a reserved Queen of the Dryads, and Meaghan Grace Hinkis made a sparkling, eye-winking Amour, one coy finger on her chin. Conductor Martin Yates did a good job holding together the performance of the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra, although his arrangement of some of the gypsy music to feature actual guitars, which had to be amplified, did not sound like an improvement.

Performances by the Royal Ballet continue through June 14, in the Kennedy Center Opera House. Marianela Nuñez and Carlos Acosta dance at only one remaining performance (June 12), and Natalia Osipova has already withdrawn from the June 13 performance.

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