The Bolshoi Ballet’s Don Quixote is a mostly pleasurable evening. Tuesday night's stars delivered with bright toothed smiles and their comedic rendition of Don Quixote was broad enough to be felt by nearsighted fans up in the fifth ring. With a running time of two hours and forty-five minutes, it makes for a long night. It doesn't, however, end in disapointment, as Swan Lake did last week. The appreciative applause was immediate and whole-hearted.

Maria Alexandrova’s Kitri is by the book. She plays with the comic acting and technical requirements with ease. Unlike most of the Bolshoi’s leading ballerinas, she is compact, strong and grounded, as opposed to long limbed and willowy. Once she dealt with her early jitters and attuned to the orchestra’s brisk tempi, Alexandrova settled down and her energy and radiance never dimmed. She repeatedly struck her balances, leaped impressively and did so with conviction.

Maria Alexandrova as Kitri © Damir Yusupov - Bolshoi Theatre
Maria Alexandrova as Kitri
© Damir Yusupov - Bolshoi Theatre

As Basilio, Vladislav Lantratov carried off the required slapstick comedy with ease. He is a dramatic dancer, credible in this comic role. His partnering of Alexandrova was confident and assured. It’s a strong, if not brilliant partnership and their cheerful connection carries over onto the audience. You just can’t help liking them when they seem to be having so much fun... Lantratov had good form in his solos, though he is not the most refined technician. As Basilio, he has a solicitous sweetness of manner and an air of affability.

All the comedy is like a framework around which to stage a great deal of dancing: the traditional ballet tableaux as well as much Spanish character dancing. This build up culminates with the great workhorse Grand Pas of the third act. Alexandrova and Lantratov's was a real crowd pleaser. Perhaps not the most bravura performance we’ve seen in New York but it was enough to bring the crowd to its feet.

Several soloists stood out. Olga Smirnova – recently seen here in New York as a guest artist in American Ballet Theatre’s La Bayadère – was radiant as the Queen of the Dryads. Dancing alongside Alexandrova in 'the Dream' scene, one can appreciate how their dancing of the same choreography can turn out to be so different. Smirnova is your classic Russian ballerina, with slender, long limbs and extension up to her ears. Alexandrova is staccato and sharp. The 'Dream' scene is most assuredly gratuitous and wouldn’t be missed if cut, but without it, we’d not only have had no Smirnova, but also no Yulia Lunkina, who excelled as Cupid.

The three main character roles were enacted to great effect by senior artist Alexei Loparevich as a befuddled Don Quixote, Alexander Petukhov as the hapless Sancho Panza and Denis Savin as the foppish Gamache. These scenes are where – I think – companies like the Bolshoi and the Mariinsky truly excel. Their academy training prepares the dancers for mime and character acting in a way that is not done here in the States. They each delivered fully formed characters, even if they were broadly drawn. Succesful characterisationwas also prevalent in the company's evocations of Spanish flamenco dancing. Denis Rodkin, as Espada, exuded machismo and flair working with his cape, while Oxana Sharova was exotically sinuous as Mercedes.

Vladislav Lantratov as Basilio © Damir Yusupov - Bolshoi Theatre
Vladislav Lantratov as Basilio
© Damir Yusupov - Bolshoi Theatre
Aesthetically, this production needs a bit of work. The costumes appear to be coming from several different vintages. Some look brand new while others seem faded and wornout. The men of the town, wearing bandanas on their heads, looked more like pirates than anything else. The lighting was also at odds, and, as a result, costumes seemed to completely change color depending on where the dancers were on the stage... Overall, the various pieces of the design fail to mesh together. It looks like budget cuts might have precluded a full make-over, which is what this ballet really needs.

Despite these visual issues, the Bolshoi Ballet exudes a desire to please, and they mostly do just that with this Don Quixote. There is great cohesion of style, and a unity of movement that American dance companies could envy when they take on big classics like this. We can only hope that when they next come to town, the Bolshoi will program mixed repertory nights so we can see more of their great technique, brought to bear on contemporary works. A few of us were lamenting that we had nothing to choose from but the old story ballets that we see here all the time.

***11