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Flash Review 2, 4-18: Tilting, Gloriously
Nureyev/Petipa's Don Q Gets a Face Lift, but it's Still got the Power

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2002 The Dance Insider

PARIS -- I must admit: I wasn't terribly excited last night about seeing Rudolf Nureyev's 1981 staging of Petipa's"Don Quixote," which opened Monday on the Paris Opera Ballet in a new production tailored to the Opera Bastille. Perhaps unfairly as I've more avoided than seen this ballet, it suggests an evening of razzle whose dazzle depends more on the dancers than on choreographic brilliance. But my fear started to dissipate as soon as Aurelie Dupont, who has singularly invented the unassuming etoile, floated onto the stage with the physical beauty of a queen and the innocent soul of a peasant. It further melted with the witty interchange between Dupont's Kitri and Manuel Legris's equally natural Basil, not to mention their back and forth with the spirited corps. And by the time three count 'em three angels were a courtin' Jean-Marie Didiere's poignantly sketched Don Q in the vision scene, I was a goner.

To start with, tho, I've got a gripe that is also a qualification: Unlike the Garnier's, the stage at the Bastille is not raked. Normally, I am not a fuss-budget about my seats. But where a seat placement restricts the critic's actual view of things he should be looking at, it's an issue. Unfortunately, sitting in the front row as I was, much of the time last night I could not see the pointes of the dancers' feet. Me, I'm a face man so from a selfish perspective I don't mind having the impression that Aurelie Dupont is batting her eyes at me personally, that Marie-Agnes Gillot (as the Street Dancer) is about to tumble into my lap, or that if that arrow Clairemarie Osta's Cupid aims at Don Q misses, it might hit me. But you, you probably want to know what I thought of the dance, and that has to include the pointework. To assess that, I've got to see the bottoms of the feet, and that wasn't happening from my first-row perch.

Fortunately, from about the ankle up, I could see everything, and when we got out to the hands, Dupont knew how to use that fan. Things like fans and tambourines often seem more an annoyance than an accomplice in the hands of even the finest of ballet dancers. With Dupont, that whipping fan was a gestural accessory. Used at first to cloyingly or shyly shield her face from Legris's Basil, later it becomes a device to get his attention as she petulantly taps it on his shoulder when he's flirting with another woman. (This moment is part of a brilliant line, arrayed this way from left to right: The coquette temporarily attracting Basil's attentions; Basil; Dupont's Kitri tapping him ahem on the shoulder; Don Q kneeling to her; and a tres tres foppish Laurent Queval as Gamache, the dandy whose money has daddy trying to force him on his daughter, poking at Don Q with his umbrella.

As brought to life by Didiere, Don Q seems like he's been poked a lot in his life; he walks with the slow, weighted, burdened gate of someone who's been wounded all over and is still suffering from them. In his alert reaction when the moulin or windmill starts revolving, you could almost believe it a menace.

Of the three ballerinas in the vision scene, notwithstanding Dupont's liquid point and torso, and the unassailably pristine regalness of Delphine Moussin's Queen of the Dryades, the ascendent Osta steals the show. A revelation every time out this season -- particularly as the doomed Marie in Roland Petit's "Clavigo" -- here Osta is a series of romantic paintings come to life. She's got the sidelong, slightly naughty glances of Cupid down pat. What impresses me overall about these Paris Opera Ballet dancers is that when it comes to acting, either straight mime or as expressed in the body, the whole corps (body) is involved.

And the corps (dancers) as well! Their involvement one and all in the opening act essentially brings us into the setting. Each one is a cohort -- particularly those that flirt with Basil or Kitri as they pretend to be disinterested in each other. The principals help too; there's a droll sequence where Legris, temporarily custodian of Kitri's fan, uses it to scold several would-be Kitri swains: waving it first at each of them, then patting his heart with it, and finally bopping one impudent suitor playfully on the head.

Apparently, Nureyev had a mischevious side, and play is what he is at here: Most winningly in a sequence where Kitri's father Lorenzo (Alexis Saramite) and Gamache, trailed by Don Q and Sancho Panza, discover in the gypsy grotto not the lovers, but a thinly veiled puppet re-enacting of their shameful errand. The puppets are played by real-life moppets dressed like the lovers and their pursuers, which finally jolts Don Q into action as he levels the puppet stage.

I hadn't seen the version of Nureyev's production that played for many years at the Garnier, but an insider who worked on that production told me she was disappointed with Alexandre Belaiev's Bastille-tailored sets, which were necessarily less grand. Elena Rivkina's costumes struck just the right tone -- vibrant greens and reds and nothing ostentatious. There's a wonderful segment where Dupont twirls down a row of men, her red, pink, orange and white tulle twirling, and her legs too. Philippe Albaric's lighting did not get in the way -- that's a compliment.

Vibrant too was the Orchestre de l'Opera National de Paris's playing of John Lanchberry's arrangement of the Minkus score, conducted by Ermanno Florio, always with an eye on the dancers, seeming to take their cue.

And vibrant, buoyant, and ebullient is what this Don Q is, a gift from Nureyev that's just the stuff to bring people to the ballet and keep them coming back, wherever it's performed. At the Bastille, it will be performed through May 20.

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