The Hungarian National Ballet’s programming at Koch Theater this week combines tried and true, safe crowd favorites (Swan Lake Wednesday, Don Quixote Friday) with more innovative fare Sunday (three works of choreographer Hans van Manen).
Michael Messerer, currently the Artistic Director of the Mikhailovsky Ballet, staged HNB’s Don Quixote with lavish sets by István Rózsa and costumes by Nóra Rományi. Messerer’s version debuted with Mikhailovsky in 2012 and the company performed the work at Koch Theater in 2014. Messerer’s version is similar to American Ballet Theatre’s, which I have seen dozens of times. There are a few differences. In Messerer’s version, Basil’s “suicide” scene takes place at the beginning of Act II, followed by the gypsy scene. The end of Act II is the dream scene after Don Quixote is injured from a fall from a windmill. In ABT’s version, the gypsy scene is first in Act II, followed by the dream scene and the “suicide” scene. There are a few nuances here and there such as Basil’s solo in Act II that resembles an Espada solo in ABT’s version, but the versions are very similar, each in the spirit of Marius Petipa and Alexander Gorsky.
Few critics write favorably about the ballet. As with most Don Quixote’s, both are disjointed, lacking a reasoned flow and plot. However, few non-critics care; nobody sees Don Quixote to rediscover plot subtleties or explore the meaning of life. It simply serves as a vehicle to display bravura, circus-like pirotechnics, fun stuff that dancers and audiences love.
Leads Friday were Tatiana Melnik as Kitri and Igor Tsvirko as Basil. Tatiana was a prize winner at the Moscow International Ballet Competition and danced at the Russian State Ballet before joining HNB in 2015. Igor was a Soloist at the Bolshoi before joining HNB earlier this year. Both gave spirited performances filled with bravura, energy, and lavish technique. Igor had plenty of razzle-dazzle, highlighted by a triple saut de basque in the gypsy scene solo. His strength is en dedans pirouettes, which I counted 5-6, difficult for this turn. His pirouettes in second position consisted of repeating double pirouettes to a controlled quadruple pirouette to a double tour. Unfortunately his turns in second were done with a bent working leg.
Tatiana’s work was also filled with spunk. At times she reminded me of former ABT Principal Dancer Polina Semionova, with great extensions, balances, and turns. Her fouetté section was difficult, filled with single, double, and triple turns, some with her arm overhead holding her fan. Tatiana and Igor were a good match, with a smooth pas de deux and very extended one-arm balances in Act I in which Igor put his free arm to good use, begging the audience for more applause.
The supporting cast was solid, particularly the Minjung Kim as Queen of the Dryads with fluid jetés and controlled eight Italian fouettés. Minjung was trained at the Korea National University of the Arts and was a prize winner at a number of ballet competitions including Varna and Youth America Grand Prix. Balázs Majoros, as the head gypsy, had plenty of firepower, with high 540s. Sofia Ivanova-Skoblikova and Iurii Kekalo gave spirited performances of the matador couple, Mercedes and Espada.
The performance featured the Hungarian State Opera Orchestra and students from the Hungarian National Ballet Institute. Also, a live donkey and horse, with no on-stage incidents.
HNB has 125 dancers, mostly trained in the Russian Vaganova technique. The company does over 110 performances a year with Tamás Solymosi as the Artistic Director.