Don Quixote is Spectacular

Milwaukee Ballet scores another triumph with its big, three act show.

By - Oct 31st, 2014 11:29 am
Milwaukee Ballet Company. Photo by Jenn Mazza.

Milwaukee Ballet Company. Photo by Jenn Mazza.

I’ll admit to being a little disappointed when the Milwaukee Ballet announced its 2014-15 “Season of Classics.” I’ve grown to love the darker, weirder side of the Milwaukee Ballet, from the strange and surprising works that emerge from the Winter, Spring and Genesis series, to the ominous, wildly impressive Mirror, Mirror.

But because the Milwaukee Ballet (in the hands of artistic director Michael Pink) is one of the greatest treasures we have in this city, I was wooed within minutes by the fierce professionalism and originality of Don Quixote. I really don’t know how they do it – the level of production involved can make your head spin, let alone the staggering talent of the company’s dancers.

If you’re like me and only know Don Quixote’s tale based on the half-hour Wishbone episode from the 1990s, you’ll do just fine. The story unfolds with a fun and effortless fluency that rivals Disney. The difference of course is that you’re surrounded by tangible imagination: the Milwaukee Ballet Orchestra’s grabby performance of Ludwig Minkus’ score from below and the breathtaking costumes and scenery from the Louisville Ballet standing right before you, and it’s all driven by Pink’s inspired choreography for the show, which he first created in 1987 and has tinkered with in the years since.

Don Quixote tells the story of a humble, elderly Spanish gentleman who daydreams of grand adventure, particularly seeking out the woman of his dreams, Dulcinea. In the performance’s prologue, Quixote (Denis Malinkine) is whisked away in his fantasies of Dulcinea, subsequently gathers up his faithful squire Sancho Panza (Ryan Martin), and hits the road. Throughout the performance this comedic duo is at the center of the story, tumbling into towns along their adventure with addled and goofy choreography, with Quixote mistaking one beautiful girl after another for his Dulcinea.

However, the ballet doesn’t really center on Don Quixote, for the most part. The bulk of the impressive (and yes, classic) choreography comes from the townspeople they meet – Kitri (Luz San Miguel), Basilio (Davit Hovhannisyan) and the Matador (Alexandre Ferreira) in act one, the gypsies (Nicole Teague, Patrick Howell and Isaac Sharratt) in act two, and the dreamscape Dulcineas in act two (Valerie Harmon, Susan Gartell and Jennifer Ferrigno).

Speaking of act two – goodness gracious. I’ve certainly had the chills at a dance performance before, but this one scene in particular is something I could relive endlessly. After being mesmerized and consequently robbed by a band of gypsies, Don Quixote knocks himself out and falls into a deep dream state, surrounded by a dozen ballerinas dancing en pointe. It’s one thing to see a single dancer up on her toes, moving in that classic “ballerina” pointe with a stiff, pretty skirt around her waist. It’s quite another to see twelve of them stepping in unison, backdropped by pale blue light and slowly falling stars. Luckily, the Ballet knew what they had here and the scene carried on for quite a while, Harmon and Gartell and Ferrigno each floating in to perform breathtaking solos amid their beautiful counterparts. Malinkine stands by, transfixed, never quite able to get too close to the dancers. Truly perfect.

I do have one bone to pick with Don Quixote. It’s three hours long with two intermissions. There’s no problem with that inherently; someone attending the ballet should expect a full evening’s performance. But the third act was an anti-climax that no longer seemed to carry any plot points (except for Don Quixote’s battle with the Knight of the Mirrors, which felt underwhelming). Instead, it was a more of a long roll call, sending in group after group to make their final impressions. I will say that the final moments of Ferreira and Hidalgo will leave you floored – they’re crazy talented, delightful and natural.

But despite that reservation, I would urge you to make time in your weekend to see Don Quixote. It’s a huge accomplishment from the Milwaukee Ballet that deserves the city’s attention.

Don Quixote Gallery. Photos by Jenn Mazza

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