Creaky, old 'Don Quixote' no showpiece for Houston

October 16, 1997|By Judith Green | Judith Green,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

WASHINGTON -- Any similarity between the world's greatest novel, written in 1605 by Miguel de Cervantes y Saavedra, and a Russian ballet called "Don Quixote" ends with the title.

Oh, sure, there's an addled old guy in armor, with flyaway hair and vacant eyes, who can be glimpsed around the edges of Marius Petipa's 1869 ballet. But the meat of the piece is the up-and-down courtship of two very minor characters, Basilio and Kitri, whose romance is about as suspenseful as a Nancy Drew mystery.

The real mystery is why Houston Ballet would spend $600,000 to remount this second-rate Russian classic and do nothing to make it a better ballet.

Currently at the Kennedy Center, the 1995 production is lively and opulent, and it has the dashing 24-year-old Cuban dancer Carlos Acosta as Basilio -- and it's still a second-rate ballet.

A bit of attention to its creaky libretto would have improved it no end; so would a new score, rather than the original by Leon Minkus, foremost among those hack ballet composers who could (and should) be replaced by a computer program.

Instead, Houston Ballet's artistic director, Ben Stevenson, went for slavish imitation, light updating and very fancy -- but still recognizably the emperor's -- new clothes.

If you can get past the eviscerated story, "Don Quixote" is a pleasant enough spectacle ballet. It has gorgeous costumes by Judanna Lynn, a genuine turning windmill for the Don to tilt at, a nice horse named Buck (a 20-year-old gelding who has a day job at a therapeutic riding stable in Rock Creek Park) and lots of production numbers for matadors, Gypsies and Spanish grandees. And the cape coach did a fine job with the bullfighters.

Acosta, who has been hailed as the successor to Baryshnikov, is a splendid dancer who makes his pyrotechnics look easy. Philip Broomhead plays the Don with gentle dignity; it's unfortunate that the role is so truncated.

I was less enamored of Lauren Anderson (Kitri), a Houston-born and -trained dancer, who has technique but no electricity -- except in one passage in the dream ballet, where she executes a pique turn sequence at breathtaking speed.

The dream ballet is a very good excuse to visit the bar, lest you go into sugar shock watching a young man mince around as the god of love. For some reason, the dream takes place in a large cave, as though being knocked on the noggin has awakened in the Don an interest in spelunking.

Houston Ballet has a brand-new, $1 million production of "Dracula," yet chose to bring "Don Quixote" to this national showcase. Why?

"Don Quixote" will be performed again Saturday and Sunday. A mixed rep program of "Second Before the Ground" (by resident choreographer Trey McIntyre to African music), "Four Last Songs" (Stevenson to Richard Strauss) and "Sinfonietta" (Jiri Kylian to Leos Janacek) can be seen tonight and Friday.

Houston Ballet

Where: Kennedy Center

When: 8 p.m. tonight-Friday, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $23.50-$58

Call: 202-467-4600

Pub Date: 10/16/97

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