Don Quixote (Kitri’s Wedding) is how you sometimes see the title of this ballet and it’s apt. This ballet is a grueling night for the ballerina who performs the role of Kitri and only just a little less so for the male dancer who plays Basilio. For whatever reasons, Don Q has become one of the great showcases of bravura technique in the repertoire and audiences have come to expect ever greater feats of daring with each generation. It has become a string of classical ballet’s notable tricks and turns that verges on cliché. The pas de deux that is the climax of the ballet is de rigeur on any great gala program and is the very definition of a show stopper.

Herman Cornejo in <i>Don Quixote</i> © Gene Schiavone
Herman Cornejo in Don Quixote
© Gene Schiavone

On this evening, I was interested to see the pairing of Maria Kochetkova and Herman Cornejo. It’s no secret that Cornejo is short and one of the reasons the diminutive Kochetkova was brought to American Ballet Theater was to partner with him. Unfortunately, this duo generates little heat. Taken by himself, Cornejo has a warm and engaging personality and he’s a thrilling dancer. His partnership with Alessandra Ferri is already legendary if not yet on a par with Nureyev and Fonteyn. Kochetkova is a star and she definitely carries herself like one. When she takes the stage, she unmistakably takes ownership. Alas, putting two stars together is no guarantee of success and that was certainly the case here. I kept thinking how much more fun it would be to see Cornejo paired with Sarah Lane who was a standout as one of the Flower Girls. The rest of the cast was very good. Luciana Paris was lovely as the other Flower Girl. Craig Salstein excelled as the hapless fop Gamache who would wed Kitri against her will. You can see his inner monologue at work when playing out this great comedic role. He could play any of the character roles better than anyone doing them now. Clinton Luckett as Quixote was also terrific. Blaine Hoven played Espada the matador very well and later rose to the occasion and became a hero. He’ll be remembered for this show.

In the second act, the trip to the Gypsy camp and dreamworld, there was plenty more outstanding dancing. Skylar Brandt’s Amor was quicksilver, moving so fast and lightly that she was hard to keep up with. Devon Teuscher was regal as Queen of the Dryads. Hers is a tough and unforgiving solo and she tossed it off with confidence. Kochetkova was actually terrific in the dream scene where she was just dancing, not acting. The Gypsy camp had the men tossing off more multiple pirouettes and the catalog of tricks that hadn’t already been covered by the toreadors. Bravo all.

Devon Teuscher and Blaine Hoven in <i>Don Quixote</i> © Rosalie O’Connor
Devon Teuscher and Blaine Hoven in Don Quixote
© Rosalie O’Connor

The third act wedding scene started off well with the group dances and assorted solos and then it was time for the grand pas de deux. Again, it was friendly enough but I didn’t see the frisson of passion that you want from Kitri and Basilio for their wedding pas de deux. The overhead lifts usually get the crowd going but it didn’t happen here. There was another dance and then it was time for the much-anticipated male solo. Cornejo never came out. There was a very long and awkward pause during which everyone sat around on stage looking at each other as if trying to decide what to do. Eventually, Kochetkova tentatively came out from stage left for her solo, clearly out of sorts. She soldiered through resolutely, solidifying her reputation as a dancer who comes through. Hoven emerged from the on-stage crowd and filled in for Cornejo in the coda earning himself a strong round of applause and the show was saved. Hoven was winging it but he showed not an ounce of hesitation.

In retrospect, I probably should have heard the harsh, bleating notes coming from the brass section during the overture as a harbinger. Gillian Murphy was injured earlier in the week and on this evening, it was Herman Cornejo’s turn to draw the short straw. It was a stark reminder that dancers live at the edge of human endurance. They push their bodies to do things that they weren’t meant to do and sometimes they give out. It was also a reminder of the resilience of the artistic spirit. Maria Kochetkova gamely kept going and finished off the pas de deux with the assistance of Blaine Hoven. They keep going, no matter what. Best wishes to Herman Cornejo for a speedy recovery from his calf strain.