In 19th century Spain, two lovers flirt in Castilla Square, clueless to what the future holds. Basilio, the humble barber, and Kitri, the innkeeper’s daughter, prance around the square among their townsfolk vying for each other’s attention in graceful pirouettes and grand jetés.
The National Ballet of Cuba was in town last week to perform “Don Quixote, wowing audiences with dexterous dance moves and intricately designed costumes as they told a story that was humorous and romantic, painful and playful.
The ballet started with the townspeople congregating at the statue of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, calling on them to come to the rescue of the lovers in peril. Dulcinea, Don Quixote’s unrequited love, helps the townspeople revive the knight and his clumsy sidekick.
Don Quixote is the chivalrous knight, the protector of romance, the humorous hero. The character created by Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra has inspired numerous literary works, operas, ballets, music compositions and art pieces.
In the original novel, Quixote is a country gentleman so deeply immersed in stories of chivalry and romance that he creates his own fantasy world where he is a knight, Sancho Panza his squire and Dulcinea, the unsuspecting love of his life.
In this ballet, Don Quixote gets to realize his fantastical heroism by helping Basilio and Kitri protect their love in the face of her disapproving father, Lorenzo.
Seeing the lovers flirting in the square, Lorenzo feels scandalized and separates the two, refusing Basilio because he is poor. Instead, the father presents Kitri with Don Camacho, a French nobleman who is mocked by the townspeople as soon as he enters the square with his military escorts. To help the lovers, they distract Camacho and lead him into the inn, allowing Kitri and Basilio to dance around some more, showing off their smooth, agile movements.
The matadors arrive, led by Espada and his lover Mercedes, putting the town in a festive mood. In bright yellow, strapping leotards, swaying their red capes, the toreros strut their stuff performing a harmonious ballabili.
Shortly after, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza finally show, and soon the whole town helps the lovers escape. They spend the second act hiding in the woods with the gypsies they’d befriended before, protected by Don Quixote and his squire. The gypsies perform a spirited dance, and the lead’s movements were exceptionally fluid.
Don Quixote is knocked cold after a fight with a windmill – a reference to the original novel where the self-proclaimed knight battles windmills believing they are monsters. He hallucinates and dreams of wood-nymphs and his great love, Dulcinea. The wood-nymphs, dressed in pale blue tutus, perform a mystical dance, dazzling both Don Quixote and the audience.
Lorenzo finally finds his daughter and drags her back home to wed the abhorred Camacho. Basilio crashes the wedding and feigns suicide, and with the help of the pleading townspeople led by Quixote and Panza, the father finally agrees to allow the two lovers to marry.
The ballet comes to an end with a celebration of love and freedom, as principal dancers Viengsay Valdés (Kitri) and Rómel Frómeta (Basilio) took center stage to perform a series of masterful solos. Valdés’ skillful attitude en pointe and Frómeta’s dizzying fouettés en tournant literally had the audience on their feet.
Besides the adroit dancers, the costumes – designed by Salvador Bueno – were the second highlight of the show, done with great detail and styled with vibrantly colored fabrics and ruffles that made even the wood nymphs look like classy Spanish senoritas.
The accompanying Cairo Opera Orchestra gave an exceptional rendition of Ludwig Minkus’ music compositions. Overall, the ballet, under the direction of legendary Cuban ballerina Alicia Alonso, was high in technical skill and simply delightful.