Skerritt, PNB delve into ‘Don’

  • Wed Feb 1st, 2012 6:39pm
  • Life

By Jackson Holtz Herald Writer

Last year, Seattle Opera dug into the depths of rare operas and unearthed Massinet’s “Don Quixote,” the timeless tale of Cervantes’ crazed and aging knight performed heroically by bass-baritone John Relyea.

Now, Pacific Northwest Ballet brings us a very different interpretation of the Cervantes story with the U.S. premier of Russian choreographer Alexei Ratmansky’s full-length “Don Quixote.”

Seattle resident and famed Hollywood actor Tom Skerritt plays the errant knight.

Don’t expect dancing or hints of Viper. Skerritt will be his “bumbling self,” he said last week after a rehearsal with PNB.

“Initially, I had reservations because I don’t even do the foxtrot well,” Skerritt said.

But PNB Artistic Director Peter Boal assured the actor that was fine, he could just be himself.

“That offered a new challenge for me, which is what I feel life is about,” Skerritt said.

Skerritt’s character frames the story that is told through the dancers.

“It’s the dance, the dance, the dance,” Skerritt, 78, said.

Although a recent work — Ratmansky created this “Don Quixote” for the Dutch National Ballet in 2010 — the look and feel is decidedly classical. Costumes and scenery are lush and rich and evoke a 19th century work.

Since Cervantes first published his story in the early 1600s, “Don Quixote” has inspired other artistic interpretations. The first “Don Quixote” ballet likely took place in the mid 18th century in Vienna, according to PNB research. Early productions featured the knight, Don, and his faithful companion, Pancho Sanchez, on a quest for love.

As productions were mounted over the years and in different countries, a new tradition arose in the ballet. Instead of featuring Don and his famous struggle with the windmills, the ballet instead drew from a different part of the tale. The story in Ratmansky’s production follows lovers Quiteria (Kitri in the ballet) and Basilio, and the wealthy fool Camacho (Gamache in the ballet) to whom Quiteria has been promised in marriage by her father.

It was this version that inspired Marius Petipa’s “Don Quixote,” and the Ludwig Minkus score, the music to be performed with PNB’s production. The Petipa ballet premiered at the Bolshoi in 1869, and “Don Quixote” has remained a mostly Russian work developed over the years by various choreographers but rarely seen in the West.

Ratmasnky leans heavily on the Russian tradition as he blends historical segments with his own fluent and inventive classical technique. His choreography is technically demanding on the dancers, which means there’s much for the audience to enjoy.

Skerritt likened his participation in the ballet to the film, “A River Runs Through It.” Despite the characters love for fishing and their expertise in the sport, the movie’s plot was a far deeper exploration of family. “Don Quixote” isn’t about the knight, it’s about the dancers, Skerritt said.

“The dancing is all part of his fantasy,” he said. “It’s beautiful dancing.”

“Don Quixote” opens at 7:30 tonight and continues with performances at 1 p.m. Feb. 4, 5, 11 and 12, at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 4, 9, 10 and 11, and at 7 p.m. Feb. 12 at McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St., Seattle. Tickets are $28 to $168 at or 206-441-2424.

Jackson Holtz: 425-339-3447;