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Dance review: Eifman Ballet’s 'Don Quixote' at Segerstrom Center for the Arts

April 27, 2011 | 11:31 am

If the world needs another balletic “Don Quixote” -– and it does not -– it shouldn’t be set in a mental institution. Alas, that is what choreographer Boris Eifman has wrought (think “The Snake Pit” in pointe shoes) with his 1994 “Don Quixote, or Fantasies of the Madman” (revised last year).  Flailing and flopping about as if on methedrine, when Thorazine is needed, Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg presented the first of five performances of "Don Quixote" Tuesday at Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

The 19th century Russian staple originally choreographed by Petipa has never been the most cohesive story, its filigreed dancemaking aside.  And set to the music of Ludwig Minkus (the Salieri of dance composers), the work creaks. But Eifman’s take –- a screwy saga of a dreamer, er, patient, in a straitjacket who conjures tales of brave deeds and besotted love -- gives new meaning to the word lunacy. 

As the illustrious Don, Sergey Volobuev is an agile, leggy marvel, abetted by sidekick Sancho Panza (Alexander Melkaev), the duo not unlike Groucho Marx and Margaret Dumont. Their fellow inmates, meanwhile, are loose-limbed, head-bobbing buffoons who smack of the Trockaderos’ male ballerinos (hello, “Swan Lake” cygnets).

Donquixotepromo Enter, then, the doctor, a magnificently imperious Yulia Manzheles. Dressed in head-to-toe white (including a stylish cap), she could have bourréed down a Chanel catwalk. Toying with Quixote, literally,  Manzheles offers her charge a hula hoop, then a small ball.  Indeed, the latter pas de deux had elements of Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator." The pair’s dancing, though, proved gorgeous throughout: Manzheles, alarmingly thin, offered impossibly high kicks, her pliancy breathtaking; Volobeuv’s athletic leaps and furious arm work also packed an emotional punch. 

Cue Quixote’s fevered dreams, which next moved the frantic action to Spain and nods to Petipa.  Here Kitri (a mechanically pirouetting, anorexic-looking Nina Zmievets) was pulled between a clownish Gamache (Dmitry Fisher) and Oleg Gabyshev’s haughty, hunky Basil. The folderol continued with a frenzy of cape-wielding torreros cluttering the stage, before a writhing Dulcinea (the gamine-like Anastasia Sitnikova) emerged to captivate the Don.

Oh, yes, at one point three huge menacing puppets dangled from the ceiling, recalling Soviet-era spookiness, after which the whole shebang, including the requisite wedding, drew to a hyperactive finish. Hmm:  If this is Eifman’s comment on ballet’s domain being bizarre, his “Don Q” makes “Black Swan” look like “Happy Feet.”

-- Victoria Looseleaf

Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg. “Don Quixote, or Fantasies of the Madman” repeats at Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, Fri., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 2 and 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.  $14 to $92.  (714) 556-2787 or www.scfta.org

Photos: Top, Sergey Volobuev and Eifman company's "Don Quixote" and, below, Yulia Manzheles, left, and Volobuev. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (7)

"it shouldn’t be set in a mental institution."

I hate when art critics say something "shouldn't be done." Talk about limiting. By all means, let's never create a new Quixote ballet, let's never place it in a new setting, let's never take any chances. Stick to the same-old same-old, all you artists.

And speaking of setting Don Quixote in a dungeon, anybody ever heard of a little thing called Man of La Mancha? Oh, the Horror!!!

I second Sallie. It seems like the allegories have escaped the author of the review.

And by the way, all of a sudden all female ballet dancers are anorexic or alarmingly thin?!

Did critics not learn from the Macaulay/Ringer debacle to stay away from the issue of dancer's weight? Let's focus on the dancing please.

It would be too bad if someone did not go see this production because of this review. I and the audience enjoyed the Friday performance. Apparently, Ms. Victoria Looseleaf, knew she was going to dislike this production even before she went. Why not give someone else the job who has an open mind.

Went to the Sat. performance, and enjoyed it immensely. I think the review was far off-base, as long as one can accept the premise of the asylum setting. The soloists were remarkbable, the corps also incredible.

Just back from the Sunday matinee, agree with the above comments, the LA Times should get someone else to do Ballet reviews. Thoroughly enjoyed it.

In all the years I've been reading the LA Times, I cannot think of a review which so completely misses the mark. Hopefully, no one decided to pass on a remarkable evening of dance as the result of reading this hopelessly misguided review.


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