REVIEW: Columbia Classical Ballet's Don Q - by Susan Lenz


Audience Needed


I’d been looking forward to Friday’s one-night-only performance of Don Quixote by Columbia Classical Ballet all season, especially after seeing portions of it during last month’s Studio Series preview. Why? Well, I’ve only seen the full ballet once. 


It was a long time ago, 2005, but a very memorable experience. The Bolshoi, accompanied by its own orchestra, came to Wolf Trap theater outside Washington, DC. At the time, world renown Alexei Ratmansky was the artistic director. Many consider him the best choreographer working in the world today. He’s a MacArthur fellow and current artist-in-residence with American Ballet Theater in NYC. Ratmansky was trained at the Bolshoi, the company for which Don Quixote was originally choreographed back in 1869 by ballet's greatest classicist Marius Petipa. Most performances today are based on Alexander Gorsky’s derivative 1900 choreography, but that was for the Bolshoi too. So, Don Quixote by the Bolshoi, I can pretty much say that I once saw “the best of the best”.


Don Quixote is performed in either three or four acts with at least eight scenes of bravura, emotionally charged character dancing, flashy use of fans and capes, a hot Mediterranean aura, and a pumped-up score by Leon Minkus. The story comes from episodes found in Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote de a Mancha, a tale of unattainable humanity, chivalric romance, and the impossible dream of justice. In the ballet, The Man of LaMancha is really part of the background. The innkeepers’ flirtatious daughter Kitri and her love, Basilio, are are center stage. The ballet is full of humor and lots of variations for the casts’ female dancers plus one of the most frequently performance full pas de deux. That’s why I know the ballet so well.


Over the years, I’ve seen parts of this ballet literally hundreds of times. There are at least six female variations performed in international competitions and the wedding scene is generally on every gala program. Odds are, if you’ve been to Columbia Classical Ballet’s annual LifeChance gala, you’ve seen part of the production as well. Thus, when I say Friday night’s performance was wonderful, trust me!  You should have been there! It was undoubtedly the best ballet performance in Columbia this season.


Radenko Pavlovich, Columbia Classical Ballet’s artistic director, should be rightfully proud of his talented company. They were so good that even the few flaws were wonderful. A fan was dropped but the dancer showed no sign of concern. She waited for the perfect moment to pick it up, as if the accident was part of the choreography. Dancing to canned music sometimes causes problems too. There are variations in which the movement begins before the music. With an orchestra, the conductor is to watch the dancer and know precisely when to bring down the baton. With canned music, timing is tricky, not always perfect. A missed cue happened, but I doubt most in the audience knew. The dancer in question was so well rehearsed that he was flawlessly back with the music within seconds. 


The highlight of the evening was watching Nao Omoya as Kitri. Not only is she a technically brilliant dancer who makes every move look effortless but she’s a lovely actress. Her energy seemed to increase with the physical demands of the ballet. Her double fouettés in the final coda were world-class. Koyo Yanagishima partnered her beautifully and his boyish charm was evident throughout.


Now, I know there were lots of other cultural events going on last night, including another opportunity to see dance. But, it is a shame that every seat in the Koger Center wasn’t filled. This was a performance that deserved a full house and a standing ovation. I left the theater wondering about Don Quixote’s unattainable quest for chivalry and a better, more just world. In Columbia, dance companies have their own unattainable quest:  finding an audience to fill the seats. I was happy to occupy one, and I hope my previews and review for Jasper Project might assist in awareness for local dance and filling seats in the future because occasionally, like last night, Columbia’s audience has a chance to see “the best of the best” right here in the Midlands.