From a fiery flamenco dancer to matadors with swirling capes, from airy dryads to an errant knight lost in dreams of chivalry, “Don Quixote,”performed last weekend by Atlanta Ballet, was an entertaining, visually evocative, fast-paced jaunt into the past, vivified by a young and ambitious group of artists. The production runs through Saturday, Feb. 10, at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.
It’s Gennadi Nedvigin’s second season as artistic director and the first season Nedvigin has planned in full. “Don Quixote” was an major undertaking, considering last season’s turnover, and many new dancers’ relative inexperience.
Originally — and perennially — a star vehicle, the ballet’s demands are great. Principal roles require virtuoso technique. The corps de ballet must move in perfect synchrony. Storytelling through pantomime requires acting skill, and character dancing — a fusion of ballet with Spanish dances, in this case — poses stylistic demands.
Pure classical choreography is unforgiving, and not every lift went smoothly in last weekend’s performances. There were a few missteps. But the dramatic change from Friday’s uneven showing to Sunday’s more captivating performance showed that this group of fresh, hopeful and hard-working young artists mean business, as they etch out the company’s future.
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That future is anchored in the art form’s history. Yuri Possokhov’s choreography is based on a Russian version of “Don Quixote” with roots in Marius Petipa’s 1869 production. Petipa is known for synthesizing the mime and formal vocabulary from ballet’s previous century with then-popular folk dances and a Romantic penchant for the ethereal. With classic formal beauty, his works laid the groundwork for classical ballet today.
The story in “Don Quixote” is culled from Miguel de Cervantes’ novel — mainly, an episode in which the Don and his squire encounter a village where Kitri, an innkeeper’s daughter, is about to be married to the ridiculously foppish rich man, Gamache. But Kitri and the dashing (but poor) Basilio are in love.
The result is a comedy done with fast-paced storytelling, animated mime and strong technical dancing.
Wendall K. Harrington’s projection designs, updated for the Cobb Energy Centre stage, transport the imagination to 17th-century Spain, its literature, and even into the Don’s mind, where images from chivalric romances drifted. Later, outlines of giant monsters loomed ominous in a stormy windmill scene.
Just as conductor Jonathan McPhee and the Atlanta Ballet Orchestra found their groove in Ludwig Minkus’ score by Sunday, so did leading dancers.
From Friday to Sunday, Nathan Griswold made staggering progress as Don Quixote, fully embodying the old knight’s sense of vision and unflagging drive.
As Kitri, Erica Alvarado sported clean arabesques, crisp port de bras and confident legwork. She carried the role with intelligence and flair, while there’s more depth to be discovered in her character.
Alvarado had good chemistry with Sergio Masero-Olarte, who made his debut as Basilio. A native of Madrid, and student of Spanish regional dances, Masero-Olarte took to the style naturally and acted the young suitor with charm, exuberance and a bit of mischief — then sailed across the stage with buoyant leaps.
As Mercedes, the street dancer, Francesca Loi infused the action with a Spanish heart and soul. Proud and high-chested, with flurried footwork, swishing skirt and arms striking the air, she was bold and kinetic, with fierce feminine power.
It was clear that Atlanta Ballet is at the start of a new trajectory, and “Don Quixote” showed that there are higher marks to reach, but at the rate these dancers are improving, it won’t take long.
“Don Quixote.” Presented by Atlanta Ballet.
8 p.m. Feb. 9-10. $20-$129. Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, 2800 Cobb Galleria Parkway, Atlanta. 1-800-982-2787, www.atlantaballet.com.