The Hungarian National Ballet – Hungary’s sole classical ballet company and one of Europe’s finest – made its US debut at Lincoln Center's Koch Theater, along with the Hungarian National Opera. The company opened this tour with Rudi van Dantzig’s staging of Swan Lake, followed by Mikhail Messerer’s staging of Don Quixote. Reflecting its diverse repertoire, the company also presented a triple bill of Hans van Manen works.

Tatiana Melnik (Kitri), Hungarian National Ballet's <i>Don Quixote</i> © Attila Nagy | Hungarian State Opera
Tatiana Melnik (Kitri), Hungarian National Ballet's Don Quixote
© Attila Nagy | Hungarian State Opera

Don Quixote is a staple in the repertoire of ballet companies and a perennial favorite with audiences for its high spirits, humor, interesting characters, and wide range of dance styles – from gypsies to matadors, from character interpretations to pure classical dance. Its plot focuses on the attempts of Basilio, a poor barber, to wed his love Kitri against her father’s wishes. Don Quixote and his faithful squire Sancho Panza are secondary characters who assist the young lovers in their quest to be united. The ballet requires both great solo and ensemble dancing, believable acting, and fine-tuned comic timing, which the company, for the most part, delivered.  

Basilio was danced by Igor Tsvirko, a charismatic bravura dancer who joined the company this season after a decade dancing soloist and principal roles with the Bolshoi Ballet. Kitri was danced by Tatiana Melnik, formerly of the Russian State Ballet and the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Academic Music Theater. The ballet provided a showcase for their considerable talent. Tsvirko excelled dramatically and technically. He carried off the comedic elements in the first two acts with an endearing flair and danced with great energy and style. He clearly relished dancing the role and his enthusiasm projected well beyond the footlights. Melnik was strong technically throughout the performance but lacked energy and comedic nuance in Act I. She appeared more in her comfort zone In Act II’s vision scene, where she danced with classical precision, and in Act III’s Grand Pas de Deux, where she dazzled with solid balances and furiously fast fouettés, with many doubles as well as turns with her fan held high over her head.

Tatiana Melnik (Kitri) and Igor Tsvirko (Basilio), Hungarian National Ballet's <i>Don Quixote</i> © Attila Nagy | Hungarian State Opera
Tatiana Melnik (Kitri) and Igor Tsvirko (Basilio), Hungarian National Ballet's Don Quixote
© Attila Nagy | Hungarian State Opera

The ballet also provides ample opportunity for the company’s soloists to shine. Karina Sarkissova was a lively Street Dancer and Sofia Ivanova-Skoblikova was a sultry and sensual Mercedes. They greatly overshadowed Iurii Kekalo’s Espada, who while able to swirl his cape with brio, lacked the posture, line, and look of a Spanish matador.

Balazs Majoros was spectacular as the Leader of the Gypsies – dancing with intense masculine energy, and Lea Foldi expressively portrayed the alternately fiery and melancholic Gypsy. In the vision scene, Minjung Kim as Queen of the Dryads, and Yourim Lee as Amour, were supremely musical. The Queen of the Dryads is often danced with a cool classicism but Kim brought warmth and charm to her portrayal. Lee’s Amour was delightfully expressive and lively. In the Grand Pas variations, Diana Kosyreva stood out with her exceptional musicality and strong technique.

The character dancers were uniformly excellent: Attila Szakacs as a befuddled Don Quixote, Maksym Kovtun as happy-go-lucky Sancho Panza, and Alekszandr Komarov as Gamache, Kitri’s fastidious and foppish suitor. In the demi character ensemble dancing, the corps de ballet performed with lively enthusiasm. But they needed more refinement and precision in the classical vision scene.

A. Szakacs (Don Quixote) and M. Kovtun (Sancho Panza), <i>Hungarian National Ballet's </i>Don Quixote* © Attila Nagy | Hungarian State Opera
A. Szakacs (Don Quixote) and M. Kovtun (Sancho Panza), Hungarian National Ballet's Don Quixote*
© Attila Nagy | Hungarian State Opera

The production's designs were by Istvan Rozsa, who at the request of Messerer, provided sets that depicted Renaissance Spain in a naturalistic way. The setting for the gypsy camp in the forest was striking, with its combination of dark green foliage and the windmill backlit in deep purple.

Gergely Kesselyak conducted the Hungarian State Opera Orchestra in a rousing rendition of the melodious and lively Minkus score.

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