Thursday, November 08, 2007

Don Quixote in Rehearsal

The first piece presented on Saturday was the Don Quixote pas de deux. Below is a rehearsal shot of the piece. (Askar isn't really going to wear a t-shirt in the show.)

We collaborate every year on our student matinees with Culture Shock Dance Troupe. Due to conflicting performance schedules, they were not going to be available for our Saturday evening show. This opened up some programming space for some smaller pieces to be presented.

Don Quixote was one of these.

Don Quixote or DQ or the DQ Pas De Deux is a classical duet that is part of a larger three (or FIVE) act ballet. Because of the technical brilliance required, it is often presented all on its ownsome as part of an evening of mixed rep or at gala performances.

For those with knowledge of the novel or any version of the play, the two characters portrayed by the dancers are not Don Quixote and Dulcinea. They are Basil the barber and Kitri, his fiancee. In the most familiar version of the ballet, the action revolves around them and the Don is a peripheral character.

The ballet (choreographed by Marius Petipa in Russia) was first presented in the middle of the 1800's. Roughly 100 years later, George Balanchine created a new version of Don Quixote (to a new score) that DID revolve around the Don and Dulcinea. The piece was pretty much viewed as a love letter to his muse at the time, Suzanne Farrell. Unfortunately, although the ballet contained some lovely dancing passages for Farrell and others in the company, the new musical score was badly received and the ballet on the whole was not looked upon with favor. It has since become a "lost" work, with only a few snippets of Farrell's kept alive on film.

So it is the original Russian ballet with (pseudo Spanish styling) set to the Austrian score (with pseudo Spanish styling) that we see to this day.

Like any other classical pas de deux, DQ starts with an adagio. This is an adagio with a difference however. At times, it seems more like a competition than a romantic duet. There are traditional balances, lifts, and side-by-side steps, but neither the music nor the choreography bespeak of any sort of intimacy. We are looking at two show-offs. Which is more interesting since in the complete ballet, this pas de deux is supposed to be occuring at their wedding.

The adagio is followed (as always) by the male variation. Why? Because in classical ballet the ballerina is the more "important" of the two. So the "star" always comes last. Years ago, when Mikhail Baryshnikov was at the height of his dancing ability, popularity and star appeal, he was dancing in a gala performance at American Ballet Theatre with Natalia Makarova. They were performing the pas de deux from the last act of Sleeping Beauty. Baryshnikov was a MAJOR movie star and a HUGE box office draw at the ballet. There was no doubt that there were more people in the audience to see him than Makarova. He had just put together a new (more difficult) male variation and sheepishly asked her if she wouldn't mind doing her variation first, so that he could have a bit more time to breath. She did and that was the end of the discussion. With his tale between his legs, the mega-movie star had to allow the ballerina to reign supreme on the ballet stage.

So as noted, Askar wouldn't be wearing jazz pants (or white socks) in the show. This was a good variation for Askar to work on. Although it has many Spanish styings, it still needs to be kept clean and clear. It also needs a great deal of power, but the dancer has to look relaxed in his use of the force. He can't look overwhelmed or out of control. He must exude confidence.

After the male variation comes the female variation, Bernadette's two pics show some of the difficulties in shooting dance. This was not a photo shoot. Manny was shooting during a single run through of the piece on stage. The step above is a transitional step (a glissade) that is used to get into a larger step like the one below ( a grande jete).

Now, if we were doing a photo shoot we would have Bernadette do the step above over and over. That wasn't the case here. And often times the photographer is seeing a dance for the first time. Many aerial steps look their best for a split second. So to catch that split second, when you don't know when its coming is quite a feat.

And then as always, the dancers finish triumphantly after more bravura turns and leaps.

The second piece of the evening was The Swan. Since we couldn't do Carnival of the Animals that evening, I decided to let Rachel do the Swan all by itself (as it is also often done). Since she wasn't with the constraints of the ballet, I also told her that, if she wanted to, she could "die" as is traditional when the solo is done by itself. She did.

The last piece performed before the first intermission was a new pas de deux choreographed One that I had intentionally stayed away from for awhile.

Romeo and Juliet.

More on that next time.



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