David Koch Theater, NY, NY; November 22 (m), and 23 (m), 2014

Colleen Boresta

Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev in the Mikhailovsky Ballet's 'Don Quixote'.  Photo Mikhailovsky Ballet

Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev in the Mikhailovsky Ballet’s ‘Don Quixote’.
Photo Mikhailovsky Ballet

“Don Quixote” is not really about the fabled knight who is forever searching for his Dulcinea.  The Don himself is only a secondary figure in the ballet, which is really about two young Spanish lovers, Kitri and Basilio. The two young people want to wed, but Kitri’s father, Lorenzo, insists that she marry the foolish but incredibly wealthy Gamache. With the aid of the Don and his sidekick, Sancho Panza, they finally do get wed.

The plot in “Don Q” is not very important. It was choreographed by Marius Petipa, a nineteenth century Frenchman living in St. Petersburg, Russia, and whose principal aims for the ballet were spectacular dancing, spirited music and a good time for the audience. The Mikhailovsky’s production shows off Petipa’s well-known comedy to its best advantage. Very similar to the Bolshoi Ballet’s production, it is a cheerfully buoyant work with fantastic dancing and many amusing touches.

For me the star of Saturday (22nd) afternoon’s performance was Leonid Sarafanov. He showed off his soaring leaps with plush landings and very fast turns à la seconde. I was most impressed by his double tours/pirouette variations which he performed in Acts II and III. In Act II, he executed seven perfect tours en l’air as well as six in Act III. He is also a very attentive partner. For such a slight dancer, it was amazing to see him lift Oksana Bondareva high into the air with only one hand.  His comic timing was also spot on.

In Act I, Bondareva’s Kitri was somewhat disappointing. When she arrived on stage she made a slight slip, and during her Act I variation, her jumps with kicks to the back of her head lacked elevation, and her turns at the end of this solo were somewhat slow. In Acts II and III, however, she came into her own. Her hops on pointe during the Dream sequence were beautifully done and her turns were very fast. Her Act III fouettés contained many doubles with very little traveling. She did not hold her balances very long during the Act III pas de deux, but this was probably because she had to deal with a wardrobe malfunction. The wire stiffening her tutu came unstuck and was dragging on the stage floor. Both Bondareva and Sarafanov continued as though nothing were amiss until Bondareva got a spare second and was able to rip off the offending piece of wire, which was whisked away by a stage hand.

Other dancers also deserve mention. As Espada, Andrey Kasyanenko danced with precision and real Spanish flair. In most productions of “Don Quixote”, Espada and the Street Dancer perform in Act III as well as Acts I and II. In the Mikhailovsky’s production an entirely different couple danced the roles in the last act. Espada and the Street Dancer were also denied their bows at the end of the ballet.

Etakerina Borchenko was a gorgeous Queen of the Dryads with magnificent grande jetés and flawless Italian fouettés. Veronika Ignatyeva’s Cupid impressed with sparkling footwork and lovely light leaps. I was surprised to read in my program that she is still in the corps. I think she should be promoted to the soloist rank soon. As the Street Dancer, Valerie Zapasnikova overwhelmed the audience with her incredible backbends. Her flexible upper body is a marvel.

Pavel Maslennikov’s Gamache was both humorous and lovable. As Sancho Panza, Alexey Kuznetsov showed off his acrobatic talents to great comic effect. It was enchanting seeing him twist and turn in the air as he is tossed around by the toreadors on a blanket.

As wonderful as Saturday afternoon’s “Don Quixote” was, the Sunday matinee was one of the most exciting ballets I have ever seen. The reason? The performances of the two leads, Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev. Both are larger than life entertainers who light up the stage just by walking across it.

As Kitri, Natalia Osipova was a perfect spitfire. Her leaps with the kicks to the back of her head were remarkable. Her turns were executed at a pace faster than the speed of light. During the coda of the Act III grand pas, her fouettés were mainly doubles with no traveling. Unlike her performance in ABT’s “Don Q” in 2013, here she did not hold her balances very long. I was surprised because in that ABT production, her balances went on for so long it was as though time stood still.

Vasiliev was just as thrilling as when I saw him dance Basilio in May 2013. I don’t even know what to call many of the movements he performs. His jumps had great elevation, his turns were all multiples and he even threw in some 540 degree turns. Vasiliev is also a very secure partner.  In Act I as he lifted Osipova over his head with one hand, he raised his left leg a little. Much has been made in the New York press and online about Vasiliev’s technique being depleted. I did not find this to be the case. At the end of Act III on Sunday afternoon he was noticeably out of breath, although this is probably because he danced Basilio the night before as well as on Thursday evening. He also performed the lead in ‘The Flames of Paris’ three out of the four times it was presented in New York. Such a grueling schedule would even exhaust Superman.

One of the many sensational things about Osipova and Vasiliev’s “Don Q” is how well they dance together. Their styles of dancing, their levels of energy, the way they approach their roles – it all meshed. And the chemistry between Osipova and Vasiliev is combustible.

Other performers also stood out on Sunday. As Espada, Mikhail Venshchikov was even better than Andrey Kasyanenko in the Saturday matinee. He brought real humor to his Act II variation as well as strong dancing with genuine Spanish panache. Valeria Zapasnikova was again the Street Dancer, and just as remarkable as the previous afternoon. As the Queen of the Dryads and Cupid, Ekaterina Borchenko and Veronika Ignatyeva again impressed with wonderful leaps and glorious footwork.

In fact all the dancers in “Don Quixote” were wonderful. The Mikhailovsky Ballet is no longer the second tier ballet company many perceived it to be. They are right up there with the Mariinksy and the Bolshoi. I hope they return to New York soon.