Houston Ballet’s “Quixote” Casts a Magic Spell

It seems, of late, that there is magic in the air. Moviegoers can choose between the prestidigitation of “The Prestige,” and the magic of “The Illusionist.” But for real magic, the kind that makes you think you can’t believe your eyes, one had to be in the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion last Friday night for the annual visit of the Houston Ballet. It would be the final appearance there of principal dancer Lauren Anderson, retiring this season after 23 years with the Houston Ballet. She could not have chosen a more stunning pavilion exit strategy than the role of Kitri in the “Don Quixote” ballet. Nor could she have chosen a more exciting talent as partner than the brilliant Randy Herrera in the role of Basilio. They were a magical pairing I will long remember.

This “Don Quixote,” based on the Cervantes tale of a man with dreams of knighthood on a quest for the perfect woman, has the beautiful music of Alois Louis Minkus. The work features the choreography of Ben Stevenson’s original 1995 production in which Miss Anderson first performed the role of Kitri. The Houston Ballet Orchestra, under the able direction of conductor, Ned Battista, gave a rich rendition of John Lanchbery’s fine musical arrangements. The lighting designs of Christina Giannelli and scenic designs of Thomas Boyd enriched the proceedings, especially in the dreamy moonlight of the romantic Act II.
In the role of the aging Don Quixote we have Greg Garrett, amusingly paired with Steven Woodgate in the role of the Don’s comic foil and servant, Sancho Panza. The slapstick antics of their journey add to the evening’s fun, but nothing can top the sheer brilliance of the dancing from this extraordinary company and our two stars in particular. The opening strains of the music were as brisk and breezy as the cool autumn night air that greeted the crowd. Patrons were even warned beforehand, that if backstage heaters could not maintain 65 degrees on the stage, the performance would be curtailed for the safety of the dancers. Happily, that did not happen. Even the assorted noisy arrivals of some chattering and rude audience latecomers could not defeat this evening of pure artistic bliss.

The many children and young dance students in the audience were in for a treat. And with Halloween approaching, there were even some scary, demon-like phantoms during Don Quixote’s dreams of adventure. And then, like a vision, the beaming and lovely Miss Anderson leaps onstage to the delight of the hand-clapping villagers and shopkeepers of Barcelona as they join in the whirling and wonderful dancing that rules the night. Basilio arrives grandly, guitar in hand, and the handsome Mr. Herrera dances the part splendidly with dizzying precision and power. These two superb dancers are perfectly matched as a romantic pair, and the audience cheered each new delight in their joyful Pas de Deux. The enormous supporting cast was marvelous as well, led by Claudio Muñoz as Kitri’s protective father, Lorenzo, and Phillip Broomhead as the effete and foppish Gamache, competing hilariously for Kitri’s affection at the behest of her father. Ian Casady as Espada and the very beautiful and radiantly talented Amy Fote as the Street Dancer add to the dazzle of the glorious dancing. Surrounding them is a full company very worthy of the magnificent Stevenson choreography that moves freely from peasant folk dancing and flamenco flair, to charming minuets and beyond. And speaking of magnificent, the exquisite and luminous costume designs of Judanna Lynn would make a perfect fashion museum show.

There was savage and lusty gypsy dancing, a sensuous “scarf dance” from the young lovers, broad comic moments like Basilio’s uproarious mock death scene, and everywhere a sense of joy that rules the production. Yes, there was magic in the air, and I was lucky to be there.

(The Courier    10.27.06)

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About The People's Critic

David Dow Bentley III, writes columns about the performing arts which are featured in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast. A member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), The International Theatre Critics Association, and America's oldest theatrical club, The Lambs, he also had long service as the editor of The Lambs' Script magazine. Mr. Bentley may be contacted via e-mail at ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com.
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