By Carlos Stafford, the Model Reviewer
Gillian Murphy and Ethan Stiefel headed up the sterling cast for ABT’s 2010 Spring/Summer productionof Don Q, and the adventures of the knight of the woeful countenance. What an unforgettable night it was. As Kitri and Basillio, the two sparkled throughout the evening’s performance I saw. Murphy, a great talent, with incredible available technique, projected her character’s necessary strength, sharp footwork, and precision Sometimes a cool persona, Murphy used the blazing choreography to her advantage and smoldered.
Ethan Stiefel, as Basillio, has always been astonishing. He has a rare facility of sharp power and speed, and combines it all with a confident ease. Add to that stage presence, humor, and incredible bravura dancing, and he becomes a pleasure to watch; he owns the stage.
This venerable version of Don Q has deep roots in the history of ballet, and comes to us from the Imperial Russian Ballet, first performed in 1869, to the choreography of Marius Petipa. It is no doubt the same ballet, but one can imagine the changes that may have taken place throughout its’ evolution in Italy, France, Denmark, England and America. Nonetheless, the ballet has the unmistakable
stamp of other master works by Petipa and his era–Swan Lake, La Bayadere, and Giselle; lush music created especially for the ballet; dream sequences with large corps of female dancers appearing in gauzy white; lovers finally united in this life or in death. This was Grand Ballet! Here, the beautiful, energetic score by Ludwig Minkus is also original and was created for this story ballet. It finally entered the repertory of American Ballet Theater in 1978.
As for the story of Don Quixote de La Mancha, we can say that it only loosely resembles the original novel by Cervantes, but is properly placed for the purposes of dance. The Don and his squire, Sancho Panza, make appearances as we see Kitri transformed into the Don’s vision of beauty, purity and true love that Dulcinea represents; windmilled monsters, emblematic of invading Muslims into Christian Spain, are attacked with his lance; and of course Don Quixote’s dream. But mainly the ballet is filled with the crackling dance of matadors, toreadors, lovers, and gypsies.
As Espada, the matador, David Hallberg is superb. His princely carriage, articulate dancing, and incredible cat-like jumps were perfect. Also appearing briefly, but remarkably, was Daniel Simkin. A new arrival, and son of former dancers from the Kirov, this young man is someone to watch. In the brief solo he performs as a gypsy he also leaves the audience with his own indelible vision of a brilliant dancer in the making with his of uncanny leaps and crystalline pirouettes.
The lighting by Natasha Katz, especially in the gypsy camp and in the Dream Maiden scenes were very evocative. I especially liked the costumes that blazed with rich earth tones of apricot, ochre, dusty greens and pinks on the women’s skirts, to the bright, clarifying blues worn by the proud toreadors, and the bold “suit of lights” in white for Espada, the matador. Their costumes along with their dances con brio created an exciting affect. However, at times, because of the speed of the music, and the demands of the choreography, the toreadors were uneven. Stella Abrera, as Mercedes, had some beautiful moments, especially her solo when she executed five difficult, and not often seen, Italian fouettes on pointe. The audience loved it.
But all was overshadowed by the Grand Pas de Deux at the final wedding scene of Kitri and Basillio. All the energy of the evening exploded into fireworks as Murphy and Stiefel held nothing back and got the reward of a remarkable, flawless performance. Their timing, musicality, and technical prowess was magic. In their pas de deux they were brilliant, in their solos both had an intensity and sense of abandonment in their jumps and footwork, while Murphy did the most balanced, and fastest pique turns I’ve ever seen. The final feeling in the house was electrifying. I then remember what the great Martha Graham once said. Even though she was from another dance discipline it was well worth remembering. She said dancers were “acrobats of the gods.” It was certainly evident here.