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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

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