the Top, and Nobody Does It Better
The Bolshoi opened its New York season with a tried and true favorite; its megawatt production of "Don Quixote." It's more fun than a barrel of Russo-Spanish monkeys.
The dancers wear the ballet like a second skin. They ought to feel comfortable; it's their ballet. Petipa created the original production on the Bolshoi in 1869; Alexander Gorsky mounted a revised version for the company in 1900 that's the basis of current productions. This production, mounted in 1999, is by Alexei Fadeyechev.
After a prologue with the Don the lights blazed up on a sunny Spanish courtyard populated by some of the blondest Russian girls in all of Spain. There’s just enough plot with the love story of Kitri and Basilio to hold together a magnificent suite of character-influenced dances; they come one after another like waves.
Our Kitri was the prodigious Svetlana Zakharova. Kitri is an extroverted role, but it’s a surprise how Zakharova takes to this; in New York we’ve seen her in the icy white adagio roles such as Odette and “Diamonds”. She burst onto the stage and circled it; relishing the movement and relishing showing herself to us. The Bolshoi has not tamed Zakharova’s freak show extensions; they are still very much in evidence and border on the gynecological. In Act II, Zakharova flirtatiously pulled down her skirt for modesty during a comic moment in a lift. We’ve seen far more than that already, why bother? The vulgarity is one problem, but how vulgar can one call Zakharova’s extensions in a production where Mercedes folds herself in half backwards? The bigger problem is that the sky-high extensions don’t work, especially in the Act II vision and the grand pas in Act III. When a woman actually can lift her leg to 180°, she loses a dimension in space. She’s a vertical line; all Y-axis with no X-axis left.
Her Basilio was Andrey Uvarov. He’s built just as long as she and can handle her; a great virtue. Uvarov is not a pyrotechnician; in the Act III pas de deux, he did a mere double assemblé where we’ve gotten used to seeing triple whoop-de-doos. But everything he did, he did decently with a genial presence and sunny acting. His “suicide” in Act II was charming and funny. His chemistry with Zakharova was also more charming than sizzling. From a game of footsie she played with him in Act I to his flirting with her friends when she ignored him, both gave as good as they got.
Supporting character performances were unsurprisingly strong. Alexey Loparevich gave real dignity to the Don even within the comedy and Alexander Petukhov was a great second banana as Sancho Panza. Timofey Lavrenyuk is all glitter, flaring nostrils and swirling capes as Espada. He had magnificent cape technique, but the best moment was when an attendant removed his gold brocade cape after his entrance and another attendant came out to give him a red and white silk cape to dance with. When you’re Espada, one cape is never enough. Similarly, one knows that Zakharova is the star of the ballet because she’s the only one who seemed to have time to change her entire outfit on the way to the tavern when everyone else is wearing the same clothing. The stupefyingly flexible Irina Zibirova stunned us all in the tavern scene, only to be outdone by Anna Antropova’s gypsy dance, which involved hurling guitars willy-nilly, sliding wildly on the ground in a backbend and if possible, going over the top of Over The Top.
With character roles like this, classical parts can look pale. Anna Antonicheva has sparkled more as Kitri than she did as in this performance as Queen of the Dryads, but Nina Kaptsova’s fleet-footed performance as Cupid was adorable without being cloying. Two female variations punctuate the Act III grand pas. In the first, Natalia Osipova sailed through the air in amazing jumps, but with little concern for form or style. It might as well have been the 100 meter hurdle rather than a classical variation. In contrast, Nelli Kobakhidze’s performance in the second variation was clean with elegant port de bras.
The Bolshoi corps' timing was impeccable as the dancers entered haughtily in couples for Act III. They walked a few steps and raised their hands in unison with flourish, like a peacock fanning its tail. Their character dancing seemed fueled by boundless energy. Even when not dancing, they are a crowd par excellence. No one works capes better and they have the best fans in the business.
The production is glorious in its energy but verges on being overdone and can get dizzying. My memory may be playing tricks on me, but it feels like they added a few capes and fans since I last saw it, if that were even possible. But if you’re in the mood for its joyous vulgarities, the Bolshoi’s "Don Quixote" proves that Oscar Wilde was right. Nothing succeeds like excess.