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The Cubans' "Don Q." Draws Cheers Downtown

By Donna Perlmutter
Published: Monday, June 27, 2011, at 02:40PM
Anette Delgado Jacques Moatti

Anette Delgado as Kitri in Ballet Nacional de Cuba's "Don Quixote"

Think of it: “Don Quixote” as a speed ride through a razzle-dazzle showpiece with laughs galore, high-powered hi-jinks, breathtaking bravura dancing, and saucy, in-your-face exhibitionism.

Okay. That’s the definition of Misha Baryshnikov’s production of the epic comedy for American Ballet Theatre, back in 1978, with generous repeats over the years. And, oh, how those images stick in the mind.

But, of course, that’s not what Alicia Alonso’s Ballet Nacional de Cuba brought to the Music Center this past weekend. For five decades now the former prima, now 90, has held forth as the matriarch of the country’s stellar export: ballet (cigars and sugar move aside, please). Not only was she an astounding artist in her day but she commanded a rare stylistic and technical excellence in her charges, many of whom decamped to international big leagues.

That has changed. Alonso now reigns over an ensemble that could look like any other well-trained, reasonably virtuosic outfit trying to shrug off hard times. Never endowed with the kind of riches that could belie their ever-fraught budget, the Cubans trotted out her version of the Petipa-Gorsky ballet with moderate elan, and threads-and-patches décor. (The corps girls’ black fright wigs became an unintentional LOL moment; dingy, droopy shmatas stood in for the Vision Scene’s tutus; don’t even ask about the shabby drape panels.)

Luckily, though, there were enough bedazzling moments from the principals to win loud audience cheers. And the L.A. Opera orchestra, under the baton of Giovanni Duarte, made magic of the ever-familiar, sweetly quaint 19th-century score by Minkus. I dare anyone not to grin with pleasure at the rinky-dink, pretty-in-pink pizzicatos that triggered all those heartbeat hops-on-point. (Or, later, to not hear the composer’s rip-off of Adolphe Adam’s white-act music from “Giselle.”)

But you should know right off that this work is really about an inn-keeper’s daughter, Kitri, who yearns to marry her favorite barber, Basilio, against the outwitted father’s wishes. So, “Don Q.” is hardly a musing on Cervantes’ man from La Mancha. He’s an incidental figure, an elderly guardian, who saddles up with his side-kick Sancho Panza (wonderfully enacted by Javier Sánchez).

Kitri is a crackerjack of a girl – strong-willed, rambunctious, a wild flirt, a winning prankster and perfectly in league with her swain who knows how to play dead and pop up again on cue. On opening night Anette Delgado made a willowy Kitri, neither fiery nor pert, and certainly not the type who could/would do that foot-to-head backbend on an exultantly high leap (á la Gelsey Kirkland). But she had the chops for all those astonishing fourth-position turns that sped up at the series’ end and for her very still, long-held open balances.

The tall, slender Dani Hernández, who looked almost pre-pubescent, was definitely cast against type. With not a brazen bone in his body (sad), this Basilio was neither wily nor waggish – just oh so innocent. His techno-tricks were airy, his jumps weightless, without the necessary force of will. But grant him this: the wherewithal to knock off three one-armed lifts – hoisting Kitri high in the air -- the last one while striding downstage.

What lingers in the mind, though, is the Wedding Act, you know, the one with Kitri in her white tutu, the one with the grand pas de deux that’s always danced at ballet galas by starry eminences who impose a heady hauteur – all to the music, loaded with innuendo, that spells out their exhibitionist flair and daring. Minkus was, indeed, a master of the genre. Yes, some call the whole thing circus trash, but it's such wonderful circus trash!

Donna Perlmutter is an award-winning critic, journalist and author. Formerly the chief music/dance critic for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, she contributes to the Los Angeles Times and other publications.

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