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National Ballet's Don Quixote marries showy tricks with purity and panache

Piotr Stanczyk and Greta Hodgkinson in "Don Quixote"

Cylla von Tiedemann

Don Quixote is an explosion of movement: Those modernists who prefer ballet on the edge will revel in its showy tricks, while traditional ballet fans will delight in the purity of the dance.

The National Ballet of Canada's production has been newly beefed up by company ballet master Lindsay Fischer and Evelina Krasnova, a teacher at Canada's National Ballet School. Don Q (as it is called in the trade) is now wall-to-wall dance in the Russian imperial style.

The work has been in the National's repertoire since 1982. Fischer and Krasnova have taken that choreography (Nicolas Beriozoff, after Alexander Gorsky and Marius Petipa), and added in megadancing for the corps de ballets. In other words, the stage is always in motion.

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Although the ballet is called Don Quixote, the idealistic Spanish knight (Tomas Schramek) and his thieving sidekick Sancho Panza (Christopher Stalzer) are just a sideline. The main roles are Kitri (Bridgett Zehr) and Basilio (Zdenek Konvalina).

The basic plot is that Kitri, the daughter of innkeeper Lorenzo and his wife (Hazaros Surmeyan and Lisa Robinson), is being forced to marry the wealthy fop Gamache (James Leja). Basilio, the lowly town barber, is considered beneath Kitri. The Don, who thinks that Kitri is his ideal Dulcinea, ensures a happy ending for the couple.

As per custom, Kitri and Basilio get a first act pas de deux that teases us to their prowess, and a killer third act pas de deux that is one of the most famous divertissements in the world. This is when the audience's blood really starts to race. Will the couple make the difficult lifts, and pull off the spins and turns (him) and the complicated footwork (her)?

The answer is a resounding yes. Zehr is an exquisite classicist, and a seductive siren to boot, while Konvalina is the master of the silent landings. At the very end of the Act Three pas de deux, Zehr lurched a little to the side, but the couple recovered quickly and got their well-deserved cheers.

Classical Russian ballet always follows a formula. For one thing, there are the secondary roles that allow artists of the ballet to show their classical chops. Not counting Kitri, Basilio and the non-dance character parts, there are a whopping 14 leading roles. A company needs strength in the ranks to pull off a Don Q, and the National covers itself in glory.

Those 19th-century Russians loved the female corps de ballet in tutus. This ensemble is gerrymandered into the storyline by virtue of the Don's second-act dream. After tilting at his windmills following an altercation with some Gypsies, the injured Don lies down to rest.

He dreams of his beloved Dulcinea as a wood nymph, so Kitri is part of the action. There is also Queen Dryad (Elena Lobsanova), her attendants (Chelsy Meiss and Selene Guerrero-Trujillo), and her Cupidons (Jordana Daumec and Jenna Savella). The female corps was spot-on, while the six soloists showed just how strong a classical company the National can be. It should also be noted that Daumec and Savella did double duty as Kitri's lively friends, Anita and Rosita.

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There is also a secondary couple, the street dancer Mercedes (Stephanie Hutchison) and Espada, a Toreador (Patrick Lavoie), both of whom make classical steps look easy. Then there is the Gypsy couple (Tanya Howard and Keiichi Hirano) who sizzled with passion. They represent the sexy side of classical ballet. Gilding the lily is the tavern dancer (Rebekah Rimsay) who seduces with her castanets.

If the above sounds like a laundry list, that's what Russian classical ballet is all about - wave after wave of dance that only grows in excitement. Don Q may have little to do with Cervantes's massive novel, but it makes for great dance in the Russian imperial style.

The melodic score is courtesy of Ludwig Minkus, one of ballet's hack house composers, who wrote music on cue for Petipa and his cohorts. The score, orchestrated and adapted in 1969 by John Lanchbery, is awash in delightful faux Spanishisms, and conductor David Briskin certainly kept things pumping along.

On a final note, Desmond Heeley's set and costumes use every hue of the rainbow to the point where you want to pull out sunglasses. Garish indeed, but fun-filled colour overkill nonetheless.

Don Quixote continues until March 13.

Don Quixote

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