By Jackson Holtz
In the opening scene of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s
“Don Quixote,” giant bookshelves are removed from the errant knight’s study.
It’s as if the dancers are acknowledging Cervantes’ famous novel, but then pushing the original plot aside to make way for this whimsical ballet that is a delight to the eye.
The production, the U.S. premier of Russian choreographer Alexander Ratmansky’s work, relies on Don Quixote to loosely hold together a narrative thread. The aging knight is played by Hollywood luminary and Seattle resident Tom Skerritt.
Skerritt, with a mane of gray hair that he flings about, plays the part with great delight, taking in his surroundings and acting as a kind of on-stage stand-in for the audience as the dancing unfolds. Allen Galli plays Sancho Panchez and the duo help bring levity and comedy to the nearly three-hour performance. If Millie the donkey won audience’s hearts in Seattle Opera’s “Don Quixote” last year, then the giant puppets hat Don and Sancho “ride” through the ballet certainly will steal a laugh in this production. (Your kids will want to bring them home, which unlike Millie, a real donkey, might be a bit easier.)
But, as Skerritt told The Herald, “Don Quixote” is all about the dance, the dance, the dance. I would add, after seeing Saturday night’s performance, that it also is about the sets, the sets, the sets, and the costumes, the costumes and the costumes. The Ludwig Minkus score played with terrific feeling by the PNB Orchestra also makes it about the music.
Set in Southern Spain, the dances include scenes with matadors flinging their brightly colored capes to create a stunning visual symmetry with the dancers athletically extending their limbs. The main story, if you can call it that, is the love affair between Kitri and Basilo. Carrie Imler and Batkhurel Bold danced the parts on Saturday with beautiful precision, drawing loud cheers from the audience.
The second act opens on a barren mountain plateau where Kitri and Basilo seek sanctuary with a band of traveling players. Soon Don and Sancho arrive and Don descends into madness. As the scene unfolds, creatures appear as prickly cactus and frightening dragons. These costumes, the most imaginative of Jerome Kaplan’s designs, are simply fantastic. I only wished they reappeared or spent more time on stage.
The next scene, where Don finds himself in a vision of dancing cupids, is one of the most spectacular stage sets I’ve ever seen. Green and yellow threads hang from the rafters framing this paradise as Don can only watch in amazement.
Action returns to town in the final act which serves mostly as a vehicle for strong solo dance performances that give generous amounts of time to each principal dancer.
“Don Quixote” is a bit of an odd ballet, but perhaps my favorite of the story ballets I’ve seen in a long time. The dancing is athletic, strong and exciting. The costumes are bold and move beautifully with the dancers. Don’s visions in the second act will remain in my dreams for a long time.
Although long with two intermissions, the ballet marches forward at a pace. You’d do well to march to McCaw Hall and catch this production before it closes on Feb. 12.
For tickets and more information, go to pnb.org.