DON QUIXOTE (10-13-06) 

By Lawrence Budmen

Miami City Ballet’s opening production at the Ziff Opera House at the Carnival Center for the Performing Arts was a historic event and a high water mark for the company. The opening night (October 13) of Marius Petipa’s legendary Maryinsky ballet Don Quixote was a feast for the eyes, the ears, and the senses. 

At last, Miami City Ballet has a performance space that is worthy of its consistently superb repertoire. After making due for two decades with less than adequate stages (the elegant but cramped Gusman Hall, Dade County Auditorium with a small stage and dry acoustics, the Jackie Gleason Theater with an adequate stage but zero intimacy), the company has a godsend in the new opera house. Elegant and attractive, the house is large but feels much smaller than it actually is. The stage has plenty of depth, the orchestra pit is spacious and the sound is clear and immediate. 

What better piece to inaugurate a new era than Don Quixote? This work requires a large cast and stage, sumptuous scenery and costumes, and invigorating Latin rhythms both on stage and from the orchestra. Far from being overly ambitious, Don Quixote was Miami City Ballet’s finest hour. Never has the company shone so resplendently! As wonderful as the company’s performances have been in recent years, this inventive staging of Petipa’s classic was on another exalted level. 

It is remarkable that this most Spanish of 19th century balletic spectacles was created by Russians. Choreographer Marius Petipa was the father of romantic ballet; his collaborations with Tchaikovsky (Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty) changed the history of dance forever. Without the ground breaking work of Petipa, it would be impossible to imagine the work of such 20th century masters as Fokine, Balanchine, or Ashton. Composer Ludwig Minkus had a flair for catchy melodies and colorful orchestration. St. Petersburg’s Maryinsky Theater provided the choreographer and composer with the grand operatic setting for their large scale, evening length dance pageants. 

Miami City Ballet did itself (and Petipa and Minkus) proud with this world class production. With opulent sets and a kaleidoscope of colorful costumes designed by multiple Tony Award winner Santo Loquasto (courtesy of American Ballet Theater), Geta Constantinescu and Edward Villella staged an eye-filling extravaganza. Originally conceived by Petipa (with revisions by Alexander Gorsky) as a five act work, Villella skillfully reconfigured Don Quixote as a fast paced three act ballet. The combination of dazzling choreography and sparkling music proved irresistible. 

Based on an episode from Cervantes’s novel, the ballet tells the lighthearted love story of Kitri and Basilio. Kitri has been a star turn role for such celebrated Russian ballerinas as Anna Pavlova and Maya Plisetskaya. Miami City Ballet’s Mary Carmen Catoya was nothing less than stunning in this career making role. Her speed, lightness, and effervescent agility carried the evening. As Basilio, Renato Penteado, a brilliant dancer noble, was a terrific partner for Catoya. Their climactic Pas de Deux was terrific – a panorama of fleet footed pyrotechnics and matchless elegance! This is what great ballet is all about. 

The ever remarkable Jennifer Kronenberg was stunning as Mercedes (particularly in the difficult divertissement in Act I). As the matador Espada, Carlos Guerra was dazzling in his rapid cape spinning solo. (Frank Regan staged the cape episodes and what a remarkable job he did! The corps de ballet was incredible!) As the rich nobleman Luis Serrano was hilarious. He avoided caricature with his strong, regal stage presence. In a surprise appearance Villella portrayed the mostly mimed role of Don Quixote, bringing assured dignity and stature to the man of La Mancha. Jeremy Cox was a hilarious Sancho Panza but he also displayed splendid balletic technique. 

In Don Quixote’s dream sequence in Act II, the wonderful Deana Seay was a dreamy, elegant Queen of the Dryads, displaying the classical balletic grace that has made her a MCB standout. Tricia Albertson was a svelte, dynamic Amor. The women’s corps was incredibly graceful in the Act II sequence (so similar to the Sylphs in Petipa’s La Bayadere). In Act III Katia Carranza lit up the stage with the feathery lightness of her dancing. Enough can not be said about the corps. They carried a good deal of the evening with brilliant, rapid paced brio.

Minkus’s lively, tuneful score was played with polished suavity by the Florida Classical Orchestra. How wonderful to hear how well this ensemble can sound in a good acoustical environment. The bright Spanish rhythms literally glistened. Juan Francisco La Manna proved to be the ideal ballet conductor – lively, supple, and musically adept.

The Miami City Ballet is truly miraculous. With this landmark production of Don Quixote, this dynamic company has begun a glorious new era.

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