This is Cervantes´s 400th anniversary of his death, and as the same applies to Shakespeare, we are living a special year of literary evocation. In the field of ballet, "Don Quixote" has been very popular here after WWII, either in Marius Petipa´s version as revised by Alexander Gorsky or particularly in Zarko Prebil´s attractive and funny choreography. And now Maximiliano Guerra premières in BA his own concept, commissioned by the famous Stuttgart Ballet back in 2.000: his first choreography.
Although there were several ballets before Petipa (the legendary Noverre, Vienna 1786, or the two Taglionis, Salvatore and Paolo), only his 1869 opus has survived. The French choreographer lived long decades in Russia and became the essential figure of their balletic tradition, but before that period he had worked in France and later in Spain, where he deeply enjoyed their folkloric dances. And he brought that experience to Russia.
Moscow´s Bolshoi Theatre was then (and still is) their fundamental seat of opera and ballet. Of course there was (and there is) a pronounced rivalry with Saint Petersburg´s Maryinsky; both have presented the best of both genres. So the Bolshoi witnessed the première of "Don Quixote" on 14 December 1869. Petipa, as was his style, was very precise in requesting the composer exactly so many minutes for a dance or a narrative scene, and also what sort of music he needed.
As happened later with Tchaikovsky, so it was with Ludwig Minkus, a skilled master of effective exoticism. His music is certainly light, but he has been attacked more than he deserves: he had a sense of melody, a talent for effective music that jells easily with dance steps and the ability to adapt folk idioms to the necessities of the choreographer. You´ll find nowhere the imagination of Tchaikovsky and Delibes, but Minkus´ music accompanies very well the show on stage.
Petipa revived his ballet two years later, and decades afterwards, in 1900 Gorsky revised it; later still and during WWII (!) it was again revised by Rostislav Zakharov (1940). Rudolf Nureyev presented his own conception in Vienna, 1966.
One fragment was and is hugely popular, the final Grand Pas de Deux, in this case revised by Anatol Obukhov.
Two other "Don Quixotes" may be mentioned here: those of Ninette de Valois on Roberto Gerhard´s interesting music (1950) and of George Balanchine on music by Nicholas Nabokov (1965).
In fact, Petipa´s ballet is centered on one specific episode of the Cervantes novel: "The Wedding of Camacho". And both Don Quixote (and Sancho Panza as comic relief) are decorative figures, for what matters is the love story of Basilio and Kitri and their stratagems to convince Kitri´s father, an innkeeper, from forcing her to marry the rich aristocratic Camacho. Both the First and the Third Acts are dominated by them, adding several torero dances to those of the people in the village square.
However, in Act II we have two tableaux: one concerns a band of gypsies and the famous episode of the Don´s fight with a windmill; the other is his dream, a pure "ballet blanc" of academic equilibrium.
Prebil told the story with great skill and genuine fun; his revision had a great success in BA, being present dozens of times during a long period. It was a Colón staple. Lidia Segni presented her own rather staid revision in recent years. And now Guerra offers his very different views.
He feels that Petipa took too little notice of Quixote, and so he gives them more participation in different places. His Sancho is less funny than Prebil´s. But the real innovation is the presence of Cervantes, who identifies with Quixote (in fact, the same dancer), and the Don´s idealised love, Dulcinea, appears several times, particularly in the Dream Scene. Also, the Innkeeper is a boor throwing his weight around (not so in Prebil) and Camacho isn´t half as ridiculous and easily consoles himself with another woman. Some scenes are confused (the fight of the Innkeeper with the gypsies) and others add little (at the beginning, Kitri is Cervantes´ maid and Basilio his barber, and several characters from other Cervantes works appear briefly).
As to the dances, they are generally good, though I found the toreros more convincing in Prebil, and the "ballet blanc", although clean and aesthetic, lacks the charm of Prebil´s with the little Cupids.
A few musical fragments are adapted by Thomas Volk. The costumes are quite beautiful in texture and color; they are by Ramón Ivars. The stage designs of Enrique Bordolini were no more than functional. The correct lighting was by the Finnish Olli-Pekka Koivunen. Emmanuel Siffert conducted with fine sense of rhythm and give-and-take the Buenos Aires Philharmonic, in good shape.
On the performance I saw (Friday) Basilio was the Argentine Emmanuel Vázquez (debut) from the Santiago Ballet. He gave a fine impression: his technique is very accurate and he has a pleasant presence. If he lacked some of the playful malice that, e.g., Julio Bocca used to give us, Prebil´s steps certainly had helped back then. Carla Vincelli was a professional Kitri, far from the level of the great ones. The torero José Antonio was correctly done by Juan Pablo Ledo. But in fact the one I liked best was Sergio Hochbaum as a virtuosic King of the Gypsies.
Other good soloists: Natacha Bernabei, Julián Galván, Roberto Zarza, Ayelén Sánchez, Macarena Giménez, Luana Brunetti. And a disciplined Corps de Ballet.
For Buenos Aires Herald