Arts In LA
Ballet review

Don Quixote
Los Angeles Ballet at Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center

Reviewed by Dany Margolies

Julia Cinquemani in Don Quixote
Reed Hutchinson

The ballet Don Quixote is not known for narrative logic or life lessons. It is, however, known for its nonstop bravura dancing. In Los Angeles Ballet’s version, sparks fly. But they don’t always fly when and where needed.
   The 19th-century ballet bears a tangential relationship to the 17th-century Cervantes novel, in which Don Quixote, after too much reading, seems to lose his mind and tries to become one of the knights he reads about. It’s possible to glean from the muddled storytelling that his main though random quest might be to secure the marriage of the innkeeper’s daughter, Kitri, to the town’s barber, Basil. But what is clear is that this couple can fend for themselves. Only for tradition do we still call this ballet by the chivalric figure’s name. And this being ballet, it uses Don Quixote’s questing to wander into various Spanish settings where pretty much everyone is a fabulous dancer.

The company’s co–artistic directors, Thordal Christensen and Colleen Neary, choreographed here, based on the Russian originals of Marius Petipa and Alexander Gorsky to the vibrant score by Ludwig Minkus with a few dances by Riccardo Drigo (balletomanes will recognize these interpolations from other famous ballets). The Christensens certainly left in the good bits, including the spectacularly difficult ones. The iconic 32 fouettés (the series of whipping turns done on tiptoe on one leg) that comes at the end of Act 3 merely stamps the seal on two and a half hours of daring balances, twisting leaps, dangerous lifts, and nonstop ballet-type entertainment.
   The directors can boast a strong corps de ballet, particularly the men, who dance with the expected explosive bravura, albeit following all the rules of ballet. Some of the women, notably Chelsea Paige Johnston, bring flamenco’s dynamics and the style’s head and shoulder positions into their dances. Also amping up the fire, the powerhouse Allyssa Bross takes on the role of the, ahem, street dancer, Mercedes. But although the principals—Julia Cinquemani as Kitri and Kenta Shimizu as Basil—are certainly beautifully schooled and technically adept, their portrayals lack that Spanish fire. Instead, from them, we see mostly serene elegance, more suited to the royalty or aristocracy of such ballets as Sleeping Beauty and Raymonda.
   Granted, Cinquemani could have been nervous at the top of the ballet. There’s a lot to carry here, technically and narratively. Her first few series of jumps are an iconic ballet moment: Kitri circles the stage with split leaps so big that she ought to be able to touch her foot above her head as she arches back. Cinquemani looked as if her feet were already giving out under her. But with each entrance as the ballet went along, she certainly seemed to gain her confidence and regain her technique. By Act 2, she bounded and sparkled, and she was fresh and raring for the world-famous Act 3 pas de deux. And, yes, she flew through her 32 fouettés.

So, remember Don Quixote? Rather than leaving the knight-errant out of the story completely, he’s brought onstage here and asked to somehow participate in his scenes. Performing the role, Adam Lüders does this by waving his arms airily.
   Want to see characterization with specificity and purpose? Take a peek at—or keep your eyes glued on—Zheng Hua Li as he plays Kitri’s repulsive suitor, Gamache. The dancer has obviously made serious study of commedia dell’arte. From Gamache’s
prissy first entrance through his deluded astonishment that Kitri could find a better mate than he, Li stays deeply in hilarious character throughout. Another comedic gem, onstage too briefly, is the Don’s wise but weary horse (uncredited).
   Not helping the audience settle into any narrative threads, the sets and costumes, designed by Nikolas Georgiadas, are not the best around. The set includes such puzzling elements as square red columns; and too many of the costumes bear too little relationship to the story, in particular the Centurion-style bodices for the wood nymphs.
   Yes, wood nymphs. At least Act 2 offers plenty of spectacular dancing by the company’s deep bench—including Bianca Bulle as a floaty Queen of the Dryads, and Dustin True as the head gypsy who leads his band in a traditional Russian-style mazurka. Again, this ballet promises panache, not ethnic accuracy nor storytelling logic. And, to a large extent, it keeps its promise.

February 20, 2016

Middle photo: Julia Cinquemani and Kenta Shimizu

Bottom photo: Julia Cinquemani

Photos by Reed Hutchinson

Fitzmaurice Voicework
with Lisa Pelikan


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