Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg – Don Quixote, or Fantasies of a Madman

Courtesy of Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg
Photo by Hana Kudrayshova

PlayhouseSquare Center – State Theatre

Cleveland, Ohio

May 13, 2011

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

For more than 30-years the godfather of Russian contemporary dance, choreographer Boris Eifman, has delighted audiences worldwide with his unique dance productions that are a blend of imaginative storytelling, heightened theatricality and emotionally expressive choreography.

That award-winning formula was on display at Cleveland’s PlayhouseSquare Center’s State Theatre as Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg presented the dance drama Don Quixote, or Fantasies of a Madman.

As in some of Eifman’s other inventive takes on classic story ballets such as Red Giselle, in which Eifman struck parallels between the troubled life of Russian prima ballerina Olga Spessivtseva and the lead character in the Giselle ballet story, and Tchaikovsky, in which he used elements of the great composer’s ballets like The Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake and The Nutcracker to weave a fantastical tale about the composer himself, Eifman again put his own spin on a classic, this time setting his Don Quixote, or Fantasies of a Madman in a mental hospital.

The ballet opened on over a dozen male dancers as mental hospital patients costumed in gray and carrying buckets.  The wonderfully zany patients cavorted and moved about in a blend of classical ballet and contemporary dance choreography that was both humorous and captivating from the outset.  One of these patients – who the others gravitated to – fancied himself as the fictional Spanish knight Don Quixote. Danced with theatrical skill and passion by Sergey Volobuev, the would-be Don Quixote regaled his fellow patients with tales of far off lands and adventures as they, like oversized children, excitedly acted out what they were hearing and imagining.

Entering to quell the patients revelry, the asylum’s doctor, danced with prim and proper demeanor by the striking and elegantly long-limbed Yulia Manzheles, brought everyone back to reality and for the first of several times in the ballet, administered treatment to Volobuev’s character trying to break him of his delusions of being Don Quixote.

As the ballet continued and Volobuev’s character read more of Miguel de Cervantes‘ story of Don Quixote from a large book he carried around at times letting his imagination run rampant as scenes from the book came to life onstage with he and another asylum inmate interjecting themselves in the story as Don Quixote and his trusted sidekick Sancho Panza (Alexander Melkaev) respectively.

The rest of the ballet’s first act was a shortened version of the familiar Don Quixote ballet story about two young lovers Kitri and Basil along with Don Quixote trying to convince Kitri’s father (Igor Poliakov) to abandon his plans for an arranged marriage between Kitri and the wealthy and flamboyant nobleman Gamache (Vladimir Dorokhin) and allowing the two young lovers to wed.

Dancing the roles of Kitri and Basil were powerhouse dancers Natalia Matsak and Alexei Turko. The raven-haired Matsak – a guest artist from The National Opera Theatre of Ukraine – showed impeccable ballet technique along with ninety-degree split jumps, rock solid balance and an ability to execute a barrage of fouetté turns on a dime.  A clean technician and solid partner, Turko also thrilled with bravura jumps and leaps.

The ballet’s second act opened on the would-be Don Quixote in a straightjacket or sorts which he shed to, like his literary counterpart, set off on a quest to slay an evil foe.  With lance in hand he vanquished three giant sinister-looking puppets that descended from the theater’s rafters which took the place of the knight’s usual towering windmill.

The scene then switched to a rough and tumble bar where gamblers scuffled and drunkards pawed at women including a street-wise tavern girl who Don Quixote decided to rescue the honor of envisioning her as his lady love Dulcinea.  The interplay between the two characters in the scene was touching.  Eifman’s choreography showed the hardened tavern girl being taken by treatment as a lady by Don Quixote and coming to his defense when the other bar patrons taunted and harassed him.  The scene, although full of action including a knife fight, was lacking compared to the stellar choreography and dancing in much of the ballet’s first act.  Of note however was the performance of a short-haired Anastasia Sitnikova who was spunky as the tavern girl/Dulcinea.

After a scene in which Don Quixote, Sancho Panza and Dulcinea attended the wedding celebration of Kitri and Basil, Volobuev’s character awoke from his fantasy and was back in the mental hospital with the doctor.

Overall, Eifman’s inventive take on the ballet classic was an entertaining triumph danced beautifully by his very talented company of dancers.

Copyright  2011 Steve Sucato

Photo by Hana Kudrayshova
Courtesy of Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg

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