Corella’s dance quest ignites Don Quixote

Diaz & Pineiro in DonQ
photo credit Alexander Iziliaev

by Lewis Whittington for The Dance Journal

Angel Corella was just 19 when he nailed the role of Basilio, the ardent barber in American Ballet Theatre’s version of Don Quixote and he proved so dynamic in the technically demanding part that he danced it in productions all over the world throughout his career.

Corella has devised Don Quixote for the Pennsylvania Ballet as the centerpiece of his first year of full programming and amply the direction of his artistic imprimatur since he became the director 18 months ago. The ballet has always been considered too big for the mid-sized company, but not an issue apparently, because this new production is vivid, inventive, streamlined and tons of fun.

Don Quixote is an old man dreaming of his lost Dulcinea and venturing out to find adventure and truth with his sidekick Sancho Panza. But his quest for truth, almost a footnote in the ballet, is sidelined early to get to the cache of the ballet fireworks. Corella gets us to the La Mancha within minutes, where the action is, as Kitri dances on air with her girlfriends and couldn’t be bothered that her innkeeper father, Lorenzo intends to marry her off to fouffy nobleman Gamache, when she has her fiery eye on the youthful, lustier town barber Basilio.

The sets are on loan from San Diego Opera and have earthy grandeur that fill the Academy of Music stage. Its Spanish stone villa balconies, gates and battlement archway that opens on the La Mancha town square. Along with the opulent stage pictures, Corella keeps the corps de ballet villagers moving and in character that build visual enchantment as he turns up the heat choreographically for the principals.

Jermel Johnson charges in as Espada, the lead matador, flanked by his brigade of bullfighters in snarly attitude and lunging moves. Johnson, garbed in white satin breeches and swirling red cape, executes virtuoso bullfighter moves decorated with balletics. Johnson and Lauren Fadeley pair up and take the square in a scintillating pas de deux.

As the Fandango Ladies, the corps de ballet women move with esprit and ease as the Fandango Ladies establishing both character and their technical muscle. Laura Bowman and Holly Lynn Fusco also captivate as they fly across the stage as the flashy flower girls with razor sharp allegro phrases.

Some cluttered comedy with the arrival of Don Quixote and Sancho mixing it up with Gamache and Lorenzo, but just long enough to catch your breath before the dance fireworks start again as Kitri and Basilo take center stage. Mayara Pineiro as Kitri gives a prima performance from her first jump, her technical prowess just another tool in her character’s flirty arsenal.

As Basilio, Etienne Diaz completely holds his own and on whole delivers a breakout performance. Diaz is a member of the corps who joined the company last year and proves a most attendant partner as he is, after all, Pineiro’s real life fiancé. What a great moment when he holds her aloft in those famous one arm lifts. Diaz executing centered grand pirouettes and velocity even though he pitched out of a couple of finishes. Meanwhile, Pineiro’s pointe work continues to impress her jetes with wonderful ballone and her diamond arabesque that she can just suspend in air.

Kitri and Basilio steal away to the gypsy camp near the stone windmill with tattered sails where musicians play as Ana Calderon circles in her mystic flamenco dance and Arian Molina Soca follows with explosive layouts, his male corps following him with huge back-bending leaps. This section strikes as too brief and could easily be expanded so much was going on with the choreography and live music.

It is eclipsed by Don Quixote appearing and tilting at windmills, getting clocked by a sail and twirling into a dream sequence with the ballerinas flooding around him in dizzying configurations, led by the glittering classicism of Oksana Maslova as their Queen. Kathryn Manger as Amor (aka Cupid) darts around Don Quixote in his delirium like an escapee from Cirque du Soleil.

The production boasts wonderful guest character dancing starting with Jon Martin as Lorenzo, showing his mastery of dance pantomime in every move. R. Colby Damon, of BalletX, plays Sancho, Don Quixote’s aide to camp (literally) and seems animated right out of Warner Bros. cartoon. Matt Neenan is the shameless fop Gamache, taking it hilariously on his powered chin and Charles Askegard as Don Quixote is a pitch perfect old knight with impossible dreams.

In his first foray as choreographer, Corella adapts the classic Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov’s 1869 original Bolshoi Theater production. And it would have been easy for Corella to take bits from the many revisions of productions her has he appeared in over his illustrious career. And there is some of that, but Corella goes for much more than a clever accumulation of past versions. Corella fusion of ballet eras particularly, melding things like reverse turns from the Russian syllabus, for instance, as well as flashes of Spanish folkloric dancing, captivate past mere stylization.

Kudos also must go to Pennsylvania Ballet’s costumers for their part in some dazzling dance couture from the flamenco skirts that hug the body and flare in motion to the burnished jeweled tutus that appear in Don Quixote’s dream sequence.

Conductor Beatrice Jona Affron and Ballet Orchestra has a lot of heavy lifting with Ludwig Minkus’ score has decorous symphonics and with lumbering musicality that is not particularly dancey. Affron shuffled sections around to give it a tighter musical arc over the three acts. The final love theme is the score’s truest ballet ‘hit’ in propelling an electrifying pas de deux between Diaz and Pineiro, with the climax of Pineiro’s burn the floor fouettes that accelerate into triple spins, whip the audience into a frenzy.

DonQ finale
photo credit Alexander Iziliaev

Pennsylvania Ballet’s Don Quixote runs March 3-13 at the Academy of Music, Broad & Locust St. Philadelphia.
For more information visit www.paballet.org | or call 215.893.1999

About Lewis J. Whittington

Lewis Whittington is an arts journalist based in Philadelphia. He started writing professionally in the early 90s as a media consultant for an AIDS organizations and then as a theater and dance reviewer for the Philadelphia Gay News. Mr. Whittington has covered dance, theater, opera and classical music for the Philadelphia Inquirer and City Paper.

Mr. Whittington’s arts profiles, features, and stories have appeared in The Advocate, Dance International, Playbill, American Theatre, American Record Guide, The Harvard Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide, EdgeMedia, and Philadelphia Dance Journal. Mr. Whittington has received two NEA awards for journalistic excellence.

In addition to interviews with choreographers, dancers, and artistic directors from every discipline, he has interviewed such music luminaries from Ned Rorem to Eartha Kitt. He has written extensively on gay culture and politics and is most proud of his interviews with such gay rights pioneers as Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings.

Mr. Whittington has participated on the poetry series Voice in Philadelphia and has written two (unpublished) books of poetry. He is currently finishing Beloved Infidels, a play about the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh. His editorials on GLBTQ activism, marriage equality, gay culture and social issues have appeared in Philadelphia Inquirer, City Paper, and The Advocate.

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