The Washington Ballet has taken a giant leap forward with its lavishly staged and vibrantly danced "Don Quixote," a demanding, multifaceted work playing at the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater through Sunday.
What is frankly amazing about the troupe's take on "Don Quixote" is the remarkable resources Artistic Director Septime Webre and his collaborators have thrown into the mix. One realizes how much of a dance empire he has at his disposal. Not only does he have 20 dancers in his main company, two apprentices, seven talented dancers in his studio company and assorted guest artists, but also the happy resource of 51 graceful little ones from his school, who were almost as disciplined as the professionals.
Even with all this talent, the company opted to bring in Viengsay Valdes, a guest dancer from the Ballet Nacional de Cuba to play the leading role of Kitri. She displayed the power and play-to-the-audience tactics for which the Cuban company is famous and brought down the house in the last act with extended — and astounding — miracles of balance.
Her partner, Jonathan Jordan, has long been the company's exemplary classicist. Here, he cut loose and gave a performance that snapped with vigor, wit, brilliant virtuoso dancing and daringly strong partnering.
"Don Quixote" is an enduring legacy from the great 19th-century choreographer Marius Petipa, creator of such ballets as "Swan Lake" and "Sleeping Beauty." While those works are considered touchstones of ballet art, "Don Quixote" is something else. For one thing, its score isn't by Tchaikovsky — who composed the music for those two luminous ballets — but by the decidedly second-rate Leon Minkus. For another, the hero and heroine are not otherworldly creatures or nobility: The heroine is the village flirt, and her boyfriend is a devil-may-care barber.
The staging and some of the choreography are described as "after Petipa" and credited to Anna-Marie Holmes, who has made a considerable career of staging a handful of classics around the world.
The earlier scenes in this "Don Q" are full of familiar episodes — from high-spirited village dancing to a moonlit Gypsy camp (with Jared Nelson as the brilliant lead Gypsy) to the famous episode in which the meandering Don of the title chases after a windmill, to a lyrical "vision" scene in which Maki Onuki brought down the house with her quicksilver dancing.
The ballet is rich with dancing parts, and the extended company rose to its challenges. Zachary Hackstock was an endearingly laid-back squire to Don Quixote, Brooklyn Mack a dynamic Toreador and Sona Kharatian a beguiling street dancer. Guest artist Carlos Valcarcel made much of the foppish Gamache. Jade Payette and Morgann Frederick also were sparkling in their duets; so rich are the well-defined characters in "Don Quixote" that one could go on and on.
Surprisingly, though, the major weakness was the ill-defined title role. Luis Torres, who has turned in memorable performances over the years, meandered about the stage, a ghostly presence that led nowhere. The role needs a point of view — he's either a pathetic bungler or an intriguing dreamer or … something. This Don needs definition.
Miss Homes introduces the last act with a stage full of men clapping out sharp staccato rhythms. It's not really dance, but the driving beats build to a climax that prompted the audience to burst into some clapping of its own.
Then it was on to the climax, the familiar "Don Quixote Pas de Deux." Often excerpted for gala programs and danced by ballet stars all over the world, the piece was given a sparkling performance by Miss Valdes and Mr. Jordan.
The good news is that this fine cast of dancers will be appearing in these same roles on Saturday evening. And the further good news is that those who can't get enough "Don Q" will have a chance to see alternate casts over the weekend before this ambitious ballet gives its final performances here on Sunday afternoon.
WHAT: The Washington Ballet in "Don Quixote"
WHERE: Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater
WHEN: Tonight through Saturday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2:30 p.m. and Sunday at 1 and 5:30 p.m.
TICKETS: $29 to $125
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS