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‘Don Q’ is an exuberant delight

The Arizona Republic, by Richard Nilsen

We’ve become spoiled in Phoenix.

Ballet Arizona does the spoiling: They continue to give us dance not only with refined technique but with real personality. Each production brings us not only an excellent troupe, but exceptional principal dancers that bring more to their roles than mere finish and refinement: They bring something of themselves.

As do Paola Hartley and Astrit Zejnati in the lead roles in Don Quixote. And beyond that, most performances are given to live music by an excellent Phoenix Symphony under the intelligent direction of conductor Timothy Russell.

Few other dance companies in the country have it so good, or give it to us so good.

And, with this Don Q, we have elaborate sets and exotic costumes to boot.

This is a comic ballet, and although it offers fewer than normal extended set pieces, it more than makes up for it in a string of character dances and sheer exuberance. As William Blake once wrote: “Exuberance is beauty.”

There’s Hartley in her tomato-red Spanish dress, twirling her skirts into orbit; there’s Russell Clarke in his toreador outfit, swinging his cape overhead not once, not twice but a dozen times.

As staged by Olga Evreinoff, there’s always something going on – choruses, soloists – and some wonderful dancing by the young students of the School of Ballet Arizona, as little cupids in Act 2.

The story is not really about Don Quixote, but about the village girl Kitri and her sweetheart Basilio. Kitri’s father wants her to marry the foppish Gamache, so the plot concerns how to trick the old man into blessing the marriage of Kitri and Basilio. Don Quixote helps – at least tangentially.

Of course, there is the battle with the puppets and the tilting at a huge stage windmill.

But the single most beautiful moment of the evening comes as Don Q is unconscious, dreaming of dryads and cupids under a star-filled night sky. It is stunningly beautiful.

Special mention has to be made of guest artist Daniel Baudendistel, retired soloist from New York’s Joffrey Ballet, who brings distinction and character to the Don. Standing almost a head taller than anyone else, he mimes his character role so well he actually makes his part seem bigger than it actually is.

It all ends in such high spirits, you think you’re watching an Offenbach operetta, kicking heels and circling bodies.

As Blake also said: “Energy is eternal delight.”