Don Quixote is famous for its spectacular classicism. As she leaps, the ballerina arches back until head touches toes, and the male lead pogoes around and around before plunging to his knees. But the Bolshoi’s version possesses something rarer too: a corps so attuned to its lovebird protagonists that it seems to add its love to theirs for each other.
On the ballet’s opening night at Lincoln Center Festival, the corps of Spanish villagers rushed forward like a wave to frame the principals as they executed virtuosic moves. When the young lovers soared, the crowd bent low in counterpoint. Or the men would jangle tambourines, the women flick open fans and the toreadors swirl capes in figure-eights to amplify the excitement of the steps. And yet the corps did not form an undifferentiated mass but a community, with claques and eccentrics all drawn together at the prospect of youthful passion.
As for the quality of the dancing, it varied. Maria Alexandrova’s Kitri seemed a bit frantic, whacking her leg into the air like a kickballer. Vladislav Lantratov’s Basilio, though, danced with sunny transparency and had a sexy habit of throwing his shoulders into the action. As the toreador Espada, Denis Rodkin prowled languorously on the sidelines before stabbing his limbs downward in bold, constructivist lines centre stage. This boisterous, occasionally cruel comedy is not known for its mysteries, but character dancer Kristina Karasyova made me hungry for her gypsy’s backstory by breathing first anger, then despair, into the sultry moves.
Some of us New Yorkers had been wondering about the choice of ballets for this rare Bolshoi visit, after nearly a decade. The two-week run began with Soviet stalwart Yuri Grigorovich’s dismal Swan Lake and ends this weekend with his macho cartoon Spartacus. But the Petipa-Gorsky Don Quixote is a vital reminder that “same old” sometimes means forever young. The work’s Alexander Gorsky elements, in particular, radiate forward to one-time Bolshoi head Alexei Ratmansky, who shares the early 20th-century choreographer’s genius for transforming a corps into a modern chorus, flashing with disorderly, detailed life. The Bolshoi has danced Don Quixote a thousand times; may the company, recently subject to incomprehensible tragedy, survive to perform it a thousand more.