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Monday, November 01, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
Dancers showcased in "Don Q"
By Mary Murfin Bayley
The Bolshoi's "Don Quixote" is a ballet that has been polished for over 100 years, and with the company's current crop of dancers, it absolutely gleams. Friday night's opening at the Paramount showcased both experienced principals and marvelous young dancers.
Alexei Ratmansky, who took over as Bolshoi artistic director last January, is shaking the company out of artistic stasis not only by touring new work (such as the brutally unsubtle production of "Romeo and Juliet" performed earlier last week) but by finding the best young dancers in the company and giving them, despite issues of seniority and ranking, juicy solo roles. The Bolshoi corps has never looked so bright and energized.
"Don Q" is a comic ballet designed to show off legions of dancers in one dazzling bravura display after another. The Cervantes novel provides not so much a narrative as a pretext for ruffled yards of lush, exhilarating Spanish-flavored dance.
The Bolshoi orchestra, conducted by Pavel Sorokin, kept the Ludwig Minkus oompah music coming at a flying pace. The costumes, after a 1906 design by Vasily Dyachkov, were gorgeous, the stage filling at one moment with flapping red matador capes and at the next with white bolero dresses. Painted sunshine-filled backdrops of Barcelona, and of a gypsy encampment among the windmills, were filled with colorful details.
In the lead as Kitri, Nadezhda Gracheva was charmingly flirtatious and breathtaking in the whip-fast virtuoso finale. Her Basil, danced by Dmitry Belogolovtsev, was a somewhat lackadaisical lover but powerful and impressive with his huge jumps and turns. Equally impressive were Maria Isplatovskaya's warm presence as Mercedes, the swoon-inducing toreador of Timofey Lavrenyuk, Ekaterina Shipulina as a dream sequence Dryad, and Maria Volodina in a sultry Spanish dance.
Marius Petipa first choreographed "Don Q" for the Bolshoi in 1869. The choreography was soon expanded by Alexander Gorsky and adjusted more than 100 years later by Alexei Fadeyechev.
The ancient tradition comes out in attitude, however, as much as in technique: the way a male lead takes a proud, "look-at-me" pose, before launching into a series of airborne turns, or in the queenly turn of the head as a ballerina acknowledges applause. It's the kind of thing that doesn't come naturally to American dancers. Maybe it's outside of our national character of down-home modesty. But this encoded attitude of pride is saying something worth hearing. It says not only "I am important" but "Art is important. History is important. Beauty is more than frivolous."
It was a pleasurable reminder from the Bolshoi this week.
Mary Murfin Bayley: firstname.lastname@example.org
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