Don Quixote is among the most frequently portrayed characters in all of fiction. The beguiling adventures of the aging Spanish nobleman with a penchant for chivalry started out as an early 17th century novel by Miguel de Cervantes. His exploits have since inspired multiple spin-offs and incarnations.
The Russian National Ballet Theatre will dance an adaptation of the tale Saturday at the Century II Performing Arts Center as Wichita Grand Opera brings the company back for a second time this year for the Kansas premiere of Leon Minkus’ “Don Quixote.”
It’s a classical retelling of a story that focuses on battling danger, both real and imagined. “Don Quixote” will be performed in the classic Russian style, combining modern ballet elements from around the world.
“This is a ballet for the whole family,” said Parvan Bakardiev, Wichita Grand Opera’s president. “It’s got swashbuckling action. It’s got the famous tilting at windmills. It has a joyous, Spanish-inflected musical score. It has comedic elements and plenty of slapstick. Romance and grace, trademarks of Russian ballet, are evident throughout.”
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Alexander Daev, ballet master and assistant artistic director for the Russian National Ballet Theatre, said it’s a staging that brings an unusual amount of comedy and lightheartedness to classical opera. He has danced the role of love-struck Basilio a number of times but will be assisting in directing this specific production.
“‘Don Quixote’ is a story that involves familiar, modern-day themes like love, money, family and crazy people,” said Daev through a Russian-to-English translator. “It is timeless because today we have all of the same issues and emotions as the characters in this work. We all feel good when there is some silly comic relief in our lives. It takes away stress. The most compelling thing about the story is that it is not serious. Classical ballets are not usually as light and funny as ‘Don Quixote.’ Everyone has fun with it, the dancers and audience alike.”
Cervantes’ original book, published in two volumes in 1605 and 1615, was popular from its inception. Quixote and his servant, Sancho, were subjects of hit plays throughout England. Shakespeare even wrote a play based on the book, though it disappeared after being performed by his King’s Men company in 1613 and is considered to be a lost work. The ballet, based on episodes from the famous novel, had its world premiere at Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre in 1869.
“Cervantes’ story has always been very popular,” Bakardiev said. “Today many are familiar with the hit musical ‘Man of La Mancha,’ which was later a popular movie musical. This classic ‘Don Quixote’ ballet is part of that same tradition.”
The ballet is set in Barcelona and the Spanish influence is evident, from the vibrant costumes, to the luminous music, to the lively set design. The story begins with aging nobleman Don Quixote’s fixation on tales about ancient rivalry. Feeling compelled to knightly deeds himself, he transforms his servant, Sancho, into a trusty squire. Together, they embark on a mission to save distressed damsel Dulcinea, whose image Quixote conjured in his dreams.
The opening scene finds Quixote and Sancho mingling with a rich bustle of people in a market square. Among them are Kitri, the daughter of innkeeper Lorenzo, and her lover, Basilio. When Lorenzo arrives he introduces the old, rich Camacho as the husband he has chosen for his daughter. Kitiri and Basilio are steadfast in their commitment to each other, though, and Quixote, who believes Kitri to be Dulcinea, intervenes to help them flee. A hilarious, often haphazard quest ensues that finds Quixote leading a charge against imaginary enemies, fighting invisible rivals, battling puppets and even dueling with a windmill.
Daev said the show combines the dance styles of classic ballet and folk dance, making performing both fun and challenging. He described the music as being particularly enjoyable, lively and happy in its Spanish influence. He noted that the character he is familiar with playing brings particular life to the stage.
“I love this role because I can relate to Basilio; sometimes I feel like him in my own life,” Daev said. “He is exciting and knows no boundaries. He is a young man in love and he is ready for anything. He is a great, strong character.”
The Russian National Ballet is a touring company that performs purely classical Russian ballet around the globe. It’s directed by Elena Radchenko, a former Bolshoi ballet prima ballerina. It was founded in Moscow in the late 1980s at the height of Perestroika’s transitional period. The Wichita production of “Don Quixote” is slated to feature Dmitry Romanov as Don Quixote, Marianna Chemalina as Kitri, Eldar Sarsembaev as Basilio, Alexander Yakovlev as Sancho, Evgeniy Rudakov as Lorenzo, and Anton Baglikov as Camacho. A troupe of about 50 dancers will accompany the antics on stage.
“Our ‘Don Quixote’ is fresh and lively,” Daev said. “It is not a boring old ballet but is full of fun and fire. The audience will have a wonderful evening, and for two hours they will be transported out of their everyday lives and into the amusing world of Don Quixote and all of the town’s people, their conquests and defeats. It is a wonderful escape from everyday life.”