The female lead Kitri in Don Quixote is a daunting role filled with technical challenges. The role features many tricky turn and jump combinations; solos from Don Quixote are a staple in ballet competitions worldwide as competitors attempt to dazzle judges with their technical prowess. The campy, self-satirical Kitri tries to impress her love Basilio by these tricks and technical achievement is the yardstick for evaluating a performance. It’s all about endless turns and effortless, bounding leaps. Paloma Herrera and Natalia Osipova as young technical whizzes made their mark on the ballet world and established themselves through Kitri.
Misty Copeland debuted as Kitri Tuesday in American Ballet Theatre’s production. As a second-year Principal Dancer at ABT, “she’s taking the mantle of the classics on” according to ABT Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie in The New York Times. Unfortunately, her performance Saturday evening was an exercise in getting by, a cautious rendering that included shortcuts in certain steps allowing her to check the Don Quixote box as she works her way down the classics list. Misty’s Kitri had none of the “go for broke qualities” that is the essence of a successful Kitri.
An example is Kitri’s turn in attitude (leg bent behind her) after a supported promenade in the Act III pas de deux. Generally Kitri does at least one turn before going to a knee; Misty did about a quarter turn before quickly going to her knee. Another example is Misty’s fouetté turns, the punctuating mark in Kitri’s solos in Act III. Much has been written about Misty’s struggles with fouettés since her debut in Swan Lake, summarized in Gia Kourlas’s profile of her in The New York Times. On Saturday, she started her fouettés off-center at stage left rather than the customary center stage. The reason is that she, like Hee Seo in Swan Lake, consistently travels to the right as her turns progress. On Saturday, her rightward movements were pronounced as she started her turns. There was hope midway though the segment as she righted herself and did several turns in the same spot. However, she finished up moving dramatically to the right, punctuated by a single pirouette to finish.
The video below shows high level fouettés from ABT’s Gillian Murphy and Mariinsky’s Olesya Novikova. Take a look at 2:40, in which I splice together Gillian’s turns at one point in time, when she hits second position. The remarkable element is Gillian’s consistency in which she hits the same position in the same spot turn after turn, a hallmark of excellent fouettés.
Some of Misty’s other elements were properly done, but with little gusto required for the role. Her jumps were adequate but had little WOW! factor: the iconic leap featured in many Don Quixote promotional photos in which Kitri does a split jump with her back foot almost touching her head, made famous by Soviet star Maya Plisetskaya; hitch scissor kicks along a diagonal that barely attracted notice Saturday, combined with short balances in the Act III pas de deux. There were segments that Misty did well, particularly in the dream scene in Act II, with nicely timed hops on pointe and high grand jetés finished off with exciting piqué turns. However, her solos in Act I and Act III were short of her high Act II standard.
Due to work considerations, I generally attend performances late in the week. Up to this year, Misty was featured in matinée performances so I haven’t seen much of her work in full length productions where dancers’ abilities are truly tested. I agree with Gia Kourlas’ remark in a profile of Misty that she is a rare thing in the ballet world: a celebrity. Countless articles of Misty have been published documenting various aspects of her life and she appears in commercials. However, after viewing Don Quixote Saturday evening, I left the Met underwhelmed. This was only her second time in the difficult Kitri role and maybe she will upgrade the technical aspects in future performances.
Misty’s partner was Jeffrey Cirio, who joined ABT in 2015 and promoted to Principal Dancer last year. Jeffrey is a natural Basilio, with high-flying leaps and many controlled turns, generally consisting of 4-6 lefty turns. For example, he started out with five turns in second position in his final big turn sequence and four nice turns in attitude in his first solo. His second solo included impressive high scissor kicks along a diagonal and lofty turns in attitude in his coupé jeté managé (jetés in a circle). A very impressive second ABT performance in the role in front of a packed, enthusiastic house.
I’ve been impressed with the supporting casts in the Don Quixote performances this week and Saturday continued that trend. Devon Teuscher as the Queen of the Dryads, Jonathan Klein as the male Gypsy, Cassandra Trenary as Amour, Skylar Brandt and Catherine Hurlin as Flower Girls, Luciana Paris as Mercedes and Thomas Forster as Espada all delivered fine efforts. The consistency of the dancing at ABT has been striking in the first week.
See my photography website notmydayjobphotography.com for curtain call photos.
I did not attend the Friday performance in which Herman Cornejo was injured. My colleague Jocelyn Deilifer was there and here are his thoughts:
In Friday’s performance of Don Quixote, Maria Kochetkova (as Kitri) and Herman Cornejo (as Basilio) offered a clean interpretation of the main characters. Cornejo excels in performing Spanish style dances, which require a certain speed of execution and quick movements of the head; they are an essential component of this ballet. Kotchetkova exhibited a strong and elegant technique, despite a small hesitation in a diagonal of tours piqués. Together, Cornejo and Kochetkova form a harmonious couple, they are both relatively short (5’6″ and 5’0″ respectively) and their partnering was spotless.
A special mention for Craig Salstein, as Gamache. Salstein did such a good job at interpreting this buffoon that in certain scenes he would steal the limelight from the main characters.
That said, what people will remember from this performance is probably the unexpected withdrawal of Cornejo after the adagio in the Act III pas de deux. His eagerly awaited variation was replaced by a long pause and an empty stage. It is unclear how he injured himself during the adagio. Nevertheless the show must go on, Kochetkova reappeared and the conductor understood that she would perform her variation first. And since Don Quixote wouldn’t be complete without Basilio’s variation and the coda, Blaine Hoven stepped in and brilliantly saved this ballet’s ending. Cornejo’s unfortunate injury gave Hoven an ironic chance to shine. Hoven was promoted Soloist last year and he was given the role of Espada (the matador) in this performance. He wasn’t prepared to dance Basilio’s variation; still he executed with natural ease. Hoven is tall and has elegant lines; more of a danseur noble and he will excel in princely roles, but his execution of Spanish characters, as Espada and Basilio, was more than honourable. Partnering with Kochetkova in the coda was challenging as they most likely never worked it together and the height difference added to the difficulty.
Below, Herman says on his Twitter feed that he had a pull on his calf and hopes to be back soon. Also, his Facebook page has more detail.
— Herman Cornejo (@herman_cornejo) May 21, 2017
Christine Shevchenko, Part II
My previous post reviewed Christine Shevchenko’s debut Kitri performance Wednesday afternoon, a wonderful display of technique and drama. She stepped in for injured Gillian Murphy Thursday evening and delivered an even better performance. The Soloist since 2014 clearly made a statement I AM A PRINCIPAL DANCER! in front of the prime time Thursday evening crowd. Unlike Wednesday, she held on to her fan at the beginning of her first solo in Act III. She again displayed wonderful control in her fouettés with one hand on her hip and the other overhead on her double pirouettes. As I noted in my previous review, Alban Lendorf is a bit stiff and understated in the role of Basilio.
Two negatives from Thursday: Christine is a great turner, but this does not show through in her supported turns with Alban. I’m not sure why, but they seem out of synch. Second, the two refused to deliver a second bow in front of the closed gold curtain as is customary when fans are going crazy. Fans wanted more of them (myself included) and left puzzled at the lack of a second bow.
Hee Seo was lyrical as the Queen of the Dryads with the entertaining and energetic James Whiteside as Espada.