In these days when the average theater experience tends toward the minimalist, seeing an elaborate production on a grand scale is a real treat for the senses. For no matter how exceptional the black box or one-person show might be, there is still a small part of each of us that misses the pageantry: the bright costumes, soaring sets, and an ensemble that stretches the length of the stage.
Charleston Ballet Theater’s Don Quixote has all those things, plus outstanding dancing and a sweet, comic story. It is a classic tale of two lovers: Kitri, whose father Lorenzo wants her to marry the foppish noble Gamache, and Basilio, a poor barber. The two run away together, encountering some helpful gypsies and a party at a tavern along the way, and finally, by way of a small deception, gain Lorenzo’s blessing and are wed. Don Quixote is actually a peripheral character, although he does get the story going by pursuing his dream woman, Dulcinea, into the square where Kitri and Basilio meet. Not to worry, though, he does attack the famous windmill later on, in the gypsy camp.
Dance legend Jerry Burr portrays the title character. At 81 years old, Burr is still amazing on stage, light on his feet and always in character. When Don Quixote sees his beloved Dulcinea with another man, as in an extended dance sequence that also happens to include dryads, Cupid, and some kind of evil male creature, his anguish is so well acted that it is actually difficult to look at.
Jennifer Balcerzak Muller is delightful as the mischievous Kitri. Muller’s diminutive size and sweetly coy expressions are adorable, while her dancing is perfectly executed and the work of a serious athlete. There are several times throughout the show when she and the other female dancers traverse the entire stage and back en pointe … enough to make your feet hurt, beautiful though it is. Kitri’s dances involve many of the virtuoso moves that ballet aficionados come to see: countless pirouettes, arabesques, and graceful high lifts.
Alexey Kulpin, a native of St. Petersburg who has danced all over the world, jumps higher and spins faster than one would think humanly possible in his role as Basilio. He is funny, too, hamming it up in all the right places, including a moment when, as Kitri holds his hands to her heart as he lies dying (pretending, of course. This is no tragedy), he gradually moves them outward, to, let’s say, softer regions of her torso.
Don Quixote is chock full of humor and silliness, a fact which might surprise those to whom a ballet is just one really long dance. The rich noble who is supposed to marry Kitri, Gamache, got laughs every time he pranced onstage with his ridiculous expression and constant waving of his handkerchief. He is no match for the clever lovers, which leaves the audience free to sit back and simply enjoy the various machinations that everyone must go through before Kitri and Basilio are married, as they surely will be. No deaths or sacrifices required.