Playhouse Square – Mimi Ohio Theatre
October 15-16, 2021
By Steve Sucato
A Don Quixote for a modern audience is how Cleveland Ballet artistic director Gladisa Guadalupe described the 7-year-old company’s new paired-down ballet production. In it, Miguel de Cervantes’s familiar Don Quixote tale was delivered in 2-acts instead of the traditional 3 or 4 acts often used. Guadalupe’s interpretation, with choreography after Marius Petipa’s 1871 ballet production, zeroed in on the love story between Spanish villagers Kitri and Basilio and moved away from portraying its windmill fighting title character as being unhinged.
The production, to open their 2021-22 season, on Saturday evening, October 16, began with an establishing scene of Don Quixote (Cleveland Ballet artistic associate Eduardo Permuy) along with sidekick Sancho Panza (Lana Krasnyansky Sokolinsky) in which Quixote envisioned his beloved fantasy lady, Dulcinea (Julie Tze) beckoning him. That vision gave way to the bustle of a village square where Quixote had come in search of Dulcinea and where we were introduced to young lovers Kitri (Nashializ Gomez) and poor barber Basilio, portrayed by new company member Narek Martirosyan. The pair, surrounded by happy villagers, danced and showed their affection for one another.
The ballet, set to a recording of Ludwig Minkus’s original score, featured a vibrant, yet traditional-looking set design by Melanie Davis and Jeffrey McLaughlin that complimented the cast’s dancing. Of the other characters to make their way into that setting early on was Kevin Baker as the foppish and flamboyant wealthy nobleman Gamache. In a breakout role, the Idaho-native’s performance was a real scene-stealer and arguably the best of the evening.
As the storyline of the two young lovers trying to convince Kitri’s father Lorenzo (Lily Sargent) to let them marry progressed, so too did some of the main characters’ levels of performance. Coming off as a bit lifeless to start, Permuy’s Quixote was more energetic, and lead couple Gomez and N. Martirosyan settled into wonderful chemistry and artistry in their dancing. Also of note early on, were the performances of Erinn Crittenden as the alluring Mercedes, and partner Emmanuel Martirosyan as a playfully cocky Toreador. Both turned in delightful characterizations and danced with verve.
A company on the rise regionally, Cleveland Ballet’s new level of dancer talent was on full display in the ballet’s gypsy encampment scene. Looking to escape Lorenzo’s insistence Kitri marry Gamache, the two lovers join a band of gypsies who bless their eventual marriage. Madison Campbell, along with the male trio of E. Martirosyan, Bruno Palheta, and Emanuel Tavares, danced up a storm. Performing to live, frenetic music from virtuoso violin duo Alexandra Preucil and her father William Preucil, both formerly of the Cleveland Orchestra, the bravura dancing in this scene was exhilarating.
The rest of Guadalupe’s expertly crafted, condensed storyline for the ballet, played out as expected. It touched on key scenes of Quixote attacking a large windmill thinking it was a dragon threatening Kitri, who he believed was Dulcinea, and him falling unconscious from the encounter to again dream of her. This time she was surrounded by cupid (Marla Minadeo), Queen of the Dryads, Lauren Stenroos, and a bevy of dream ladies re-enforcing the ballet’s underlying theme of love.
The production concluded with the brilliant staging and comedic performance of N. Martirosyan as Basilio, faking stabbing himself, and Gomez’s feigned distress as Kitri that convinced Lorenzo to let the couple marry and the lively wedding celebration that ensued. It was highlighted by a grand pas de deux between Gomez and N. Martirosyan replete with partnered pirouettes and swift turning steps and sequences, along with solidly danced solo variations for each of them.
As a ballet company of which the classics are its bread and butter, this new Don Quixote production is a keeper. Its compact storytelling, lovely set design, lighting, and dancer performances were well deserving of the standing ovation received from the Mimi Ohio Theatre audience at ballet’s end.
Next, Cleveland Ballet performs The Nutcracker, December 3-5 at Playhouse Square’s Connor Palace Theatre, 1615 Euclid Ave., Cleveland. For tickets and additional information, visit playhousesquare.org or call (216) 640-8799.
Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.