Ask any ballet fan about American Ballet Theatre and you can expect to hear about a long list of principal dancers and starring roles. With company members from around the world, the conversation could take place in any language and span generations. Friday evening, ABT celebrated the joint tenth anniversaries of two such beloved dancers: Xiomara Reyes and Herman Cornejo commemorated their decade as principals as Kitri and Basil in Don Quixote.

Xiomara Reyes and Herman Cornejo in Don Quixote © MIRA
Xiomara Reyes and Herman Cornejo in Don Quixote
© MIRA

This traditional three-act ballet is a terrific showcase for the leading couple. Marius Petipa’s original choreography premièred in Moscow in 1869 and has been revived many times. Reyes and Cornejo first performed the ballet (staged by artistic director Kevin McKenzie and ballet master Susan Jones) in Tokyo in 2006.

In the first scene Kitri and Basil establish their love in a duet amidst the townspeople of their village. Despite Kitri’s father planning her marriage to another man, Gamache, the tone is light hearted and upbeat. Kitri and Basil tease and flirt with their friends before returning to each other. In a series of lifts, Cornejo releases and catches Reyes overhead. Craig Salstein as the garishly over dressed Gamache provides comic relief without seriously threatening the couple’s romance. In the title role, Victor Barbee inserts himself into the village introducing the audience to all the characters. Believing that Kitri is his true love he follows her and Basil’s escape from to a gypsy camp.

The friendly camp is, of course, an ideal setting for more dancing. Joseph Phillips, a gypsy, welcomes the pair with fantastic jumps. Launching vertically in the air, he arches his back, hands almost meeting his feet behind his head. Not to be outdone, Basil steps up to prove himself. Cornejo claims the spotlight with soaring assembles and beats before landing. Drawing on Spain’s Moorish influences, the gypsy atmosphere allows for more bravado from all the dancers and a very lively scene. Finally, Don Quixote realizes Kitri is not his beloved, but in his delusional state attacks a windmill.

While unconscious, the audience is treated to Don Quixote’s beautiful visions. The dream maidens, their queen, and the nymph-like Amour fill the stage. Amour (Sarah Lane) stands out, skimming across the floor en pointe looking more hummingbird than human. Within the dream she doesn’t speak but her body language exudes warmth and affection. Perhaps this vision of love has a fortunate influence on Kitri and Basil. Once Don Quixote wakes up, they carry out a plan that could have saved Romeo and Juliet a lot of heartache. Basil fakes his death and Kitri convinces her father to let her marry his corpse. Basil can’t keep his hands off Kitri even while he’s supposed to be dead, making her job harder but the whole episode hilarious. Their musicality throughout the ballet is spot on and here their comedic timing has a chance to shine, too.

In the third act, Kitri and Basil’s wedding, Reyes and Cornejo pull out all the stops for their solos. Their impeccable technique, while not surprising, is still impressive. Reyes’ footwork is sharp while she twirls at breakneck speeds across the stage. Cornejo’s spins in the air keep a perfect vertical axis through multiple revolutions. Their partnership builds a joyful energy on stage especially fitting for this cheerful story and double ten-year milestones.