Allen Galli as Sancho Panza, with Pacific Northwest Ballet company dancers, in Alexei Ratmansky’s “Don Quixote,” which runs through Feb. 8. Photo by Angela Sterling
Allen Galli as Sancho Panza, with Pacific Northwest Ballet company dancers, in Alexei Ratmansky’s “Don Quixote,” which runs through Feb. 8. Photo by Angela Sterling

I am not a fan of storybook ballets, whose massive fantastical sets, elaborate costumes and detailed plot demands can displace impressive dancing and be downright dull. However, after seeing Pacific Northwest Ballet’s spirited “Don Quixote” on opening night last Friday, Jan. 30, I truly regretted missing the production’s 2012 American premiere with the company.

Alexei Ratmansky, former director of the Bolshoi Ballet, created the mostly lighthearted ballet in 2010 for the Dutch National Ballet. Yes, the production is lavish and the storyline is involved, yet Ratmansky’s version shows a knack for honoring the original 1869 Marius Petipa choreography and its 1900 Alexander Gorsky revival while giving it modern sex appeal.

Based on the novel “Don Quixote,” written in the 17th century by Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, the ballet takes the somewhat-addled, aging title character and his loyal servant, Sancho Panza, to Barcelona. There, they meet the irrepressible and lovely Kitri.

The Don, in his confusion, believes he is a medieval knight and mistakes Kitri for the beautiful Dulcinea, an imaginary woman the Don has dreamt of rescuing. The Don and his sidekick become embroiled in Kitri’s fight to escape the rich dandy her father insists she wed and, instead, follow her heart to marry the dynamic, young barber Basilio.

Ratmansky keeps things fresh with actors playing Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Even though neither character speaks, Emmy Award-winning television and film actor Tom Skerritt manages to convey a touching pathos as the Don. With his highly physical clowning, Allen Galli is a hoot as the Don’s servant. A familiar actor on local stages for more than 30 years, Galli channels shades of such great comedians as Charlie Chaplin.

Cleverly playful theatrical bits delight throughout. The moon smiles, winks and cries. Two put-upon servants have entertaining mishaps as they struggle to carry Kitri’s wealthy suitor, Gamache, on a litter. The Don’s horse and his squire’s donkey are giant, show-stealing, stuffed puppets worn by the actors.

Jérôme Kaplan’s vivid scenery and costumes — with complementary lighting by James F. Ingalls — deftly establish sun-drenched Spain and the mystical realms of the Don’s dreams. But it is the street scenes rich with stylized Spanish dance — employing castanets, fans and swirling matador capes — that fully flesh out the Don’s Barcelona.

On opening night, Carla Körbes and Batkhurel Bold played the high-spirited Kitri and Basilio, respectively, with elan, all while acing the famously superhuman demands of the ballet’s pas de deux — from jaw-dropping jumps to whirlwind spins to achingly long lifts. Körbes did fall in the final act after a couple of small wobbles in her performance. But, admirably, she picked herself up and was absolutely rock-solid through the end of the evening.

Karel Cruz (as Espada) was the epitome of a bullfighter, with his chest-forward Espada, and he was matched by Lindi Dec’s dramatic Mercedes.

Rachel Foster was an enchanting Cupid, with her rapid, lighter-than-air flutterimg jumps. As the chaotic Devil, Eric Hiplito Jr. was impossibly airborne in his menacingly compressed leaps. Jonathan Porretta (as Gamache) and Uko Gorter (as Lorenzo) once again proved their comedic aptitude.

Conductor Emil de Cou and his orchestra garnered well-deserved, extended applause after the final intermission for their masterful handling of Ludwig Minkus’ score.

Pacific Northwest Ballet’s “Don Quixote” delivers a diverting retelling of the original tale, underscored by matchless dancing — far from a humdrum storybook ballet.

Pacific Northwest Ballet’s “Don Quixote” performs at Marion Oliver McCaw Hall (321 Mercer St.) through Sunday, Feb. 8. For tickets information, visit www.pnb.org or call (206) 441-2424.

 

MAGGIE LARRICK is former editor of the Queen Anne & Magnolia News. To comment on this review, write to QAMagNews@nwlink.com.