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Archive for February 15th, 2012

Ballet West’s “Don Quixote”

Compared to Ballet West’s latest productions with their demanding visual scenery (“Dracula”’s gothic bedroom scenes, “The Sleeping Beauty”’s smoke-filled depths of a forest) “Don Quixote” relies heavily on storytelling, cross dressing men and bravado to awe the audience.

The simple humor and stomping matadors did not fully support the ballet. The production was extremely chaste and one-noted. Humor came almost completely from the performance of Easton Smith as Gamache. Playing the buffoon, Smith pranced through the ballet, his full pantaloons and pink cheeks a visual reminder that he was the clown of the show.

However, Ballet West company members transform muted staging into brilliance with their performance. No longer is it just Christiana Bennett who steals the show. Soloists and even corps members are moving with new clarity and depth.

What made “Don Quixote” a thoroughly enjoyable performance was the passionate and masterful dancing of soloists, notably Kuei-Hsein Chu (as Gypsy King), Beckanne Sisk, Christopher Ruud and Arolyn Williams (as Cupid).

Kuei-Hsein Chu immediately clinched the audience vote for ‘favorite dancer.’ Propelling his compact form off of the floor beautifully, he made his rapid ascent a precursor to dramatic turns and hyper-executed positions. Chu, dressed effeminately in a wrap belly shirt, moved with a leering sensuality and sinuousness. He boldly danced wildly where dancers in the same role might have danced less provocatively. It was amazing.

William’s performance of Cupid was perhaps the most character driven dancing in Holmes’ “Don Q.” Williams was as quick and flighty as a human attempting to be a cherub can be. The turned in stag leaps and stylized positions were distinctly a movement vocabulary of Cupid alone, a welcome separation from sometimes-monotonous corps work.

Interspersed between long sections of predictable choreography in which each lift required an accompanying trill of music, each trill of music duly (dully) benefiting from the movement, were pleasing moments of suspense. Perhaps choreographer Anna-Marie Holmes recognized her own patterns and broke them, such as when Beckanne Sisk as Kitri jumped into a partnered leap. Sisk does this twice, the first time landing on the ground quickly. Doubling back, she repeats this lift but soars higher via Christopher Ruud’s partnering. The audience is taken aback Sisk’s momentary reprieve from gravity. In a more pointed and coquettish display of teasing suspense, one of “Kitri’s friends,” demi-soloist Allison DeBona, completes the easiest ropes course ever created. She faces the audience, bourreing and piqueing around beer mugs that the men from the bar placed on the floor as obstacles. While suspense in the form of “will she fall?!” might not always be the most graceful way to initiate audience interest, the tactic was playful and the woman’s aptitude made the probability of an “America’s Funniest Home Videos” moment unlikely.

“Don Quixote” takes place in a land where swords are too long and windmills are too short. Exaggerated and over the top acting almost made the ballet kitsch, garnering audiences attention in spite of the dancing, rather than because of it. Scenery and costumes can eclipse the choreography. Ballet West’s performance of “Don Quixote” is successful because of its dancing. I enjoyed watching the show as I might enjoy watching a ballet class, ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ over a balance en pointe. Again, Ballet West reminds us that they are a powerhouse of technique and strong performers.