James Whiteside in ABT's Don Quixote. Photo Renata Pavam

James Whiteside in ABT’s Don Quixote. Photo Renata Pavam

Metropolitan Opera House, New York; May 29, 2013

David Mead

Is there a more inappropriately named ballet that “Don Quixote”? After all, it is not really about the Don at all, but about the two sweethearts, Kitri and Basilio, and their ultimately successful attempt to marry.

The curtain rises to reveal Santo Loquasto’s intricate set, which manages to do the almost impossible by conveying the sense of space of a busy square, yet at the same time be intimate. Natasha Katz’s lighting contributes enormously, the two combining to bring the sunshine and warmth of Spain to the stage.

There was rather less Spanish sun from Veronika Part, though. Making her debut as Kitri she was ice-cool in more ways than one. Of course, “Don Quixote” is not really a Spanish ballet at all, it is a Russian one, but even so it would have been nice to have seen a little more Iberian sensuality and expression. A little bit of petulance in Kitri never comes amiss as she puts her foot down and goes against her father’s wishes. But there was none of it here. And she barely smiled once during the whole performance. Maybe the fact her father was busy trying to marry her off to a rich nobleman was playing on her mind more than we thought.

Only occasionally did one feel there was much in the way of chemistry between her and James Whiteside’s Basilio. Act I was notable for the large number of off balance supports between them. Neither dancer had problems dancing alone, so it’s difficult to tell quite where the problem lie. Maybe it’s a partnership that will eventually blossom, but the shoots looked incredibly tender just then.

Things picked up somewhat in Act II. Part came alive during Basilio’s fake suicide scene and was very funny indeed as she pretended to revive him. It was like watching a different dancer. But the coolness soon returned.

The big pas de deux was solid. Whiteside has an attractive, uncomplicated air about him. His jumps are turns were all very cleanly executed, with his series of pirouettes in second being particularly notable. There was lots of clarity from Part too. She was always bang on the music, but it was all rather unspectacular. Her fouettés were right on the spot, but with no embellishment whatsoever. There was little zest, sense of celebration or Spanish flair. Oh for a few overhead flourishes of her fan, even an occasional double.

The supporting characters were generally excellent. Julio Bragado-Young brought lots of stagecraft to his portrayal of the downtrodden, slightly daft Sancho Panza. He looked for all the world like a close relative of Blackadder’s Baldrick, with many of the mannerisms too. His master could have done with one of his cunning plans!

Whenever they appeared, the show was stolen by Devon Teuscher and Melanie Hamrick as the Flower Girls. They were full of grace and precision, and were quite delightful and utterly beguiling. Their pizzicato pointework was pinprick sharp. They provided some much needed sunny dancing and sunny dispositions.

Kristi Boone was an elegant and eloquent Mercedes. Jared Matthews was a dashing, upright and imposing matador, although he lacked the sense of irony which many dancers put into the role. If Espada is really going to make it as a matador he really needs to work on his showmanship though. His cape swirling especially could do with some beefing up. Alexandre Hammoudi was unfunny as the foppish and rather pathetic Gamache. His attempts at humour and clowning all fell flat. Kitri was spot on in not wanting anything to do with him. The corps were radiant.

The orchestra was conducted by David LaMarche, who sometimes took things at a near-funereal pace. He never quite came to a grinding halt, but the music was dragged out so long on a couple of lifts I thought about taking a quick siesta.