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Moscow City Ballet performs “Don Quixote” at the Staller Center

According to the ballet's website, The Moscow City Ballet has had its greatest success in the United Kingdom. It has given over 800 performances there since 1991.  Photo credit: World Touring
According to the ballet’s website, the Moscow City Ballet has had its greatest success in the United Kingdom. It has given over 800 performances there since 1991. PHOTO CREDIT: WORLD TOURING

A 21st-century Stony Brook stage was transformed into 17th-century Spain when the Moscow City Ballet performed “Don Quixote” on the Staller Center Main Stage on Saturday, March 14 at 8 p.m..

The ballet is loosely based on the 1605 novel of the same name by Miguel de Cervantes, which also served as the inspiration for the musical “Man of La Mancha.” The ballet tells the tale of the pretend knight-errant Don Quixote (Alexander Gavrilov), who embarks on a chivalrous quest to find his imaginary love, Dulcinea.

While Don Quixote’s character is the comedic heart of the story, the true stars of the ballet are the lovers Kitri and Basil, whom the knight meets on his quest. Don Quixote becomes determined to unite the two when they are kept apart by Kitri’s father, who wants her to marry the rich but vain Gamash.

The Moscow City Ballet took the audience to many locations, including a lively town square, a forest with glittering tree nymphs in tutus and a raucous tavern. The play ended with a romantic and daring pas de deux, a duet by a male and female dancer.

The production starred Yulia Zhuravleva as the flirtatious Kitri and Talgat Kozhabaev as the charming Basil. The audience cheered as Zhuravleva performed the famous fouetté en tournant, turning on one leg 32 times without stopping. Kozhabaev showed his own technical prowess when he performed two swan dives, lifting Zhuravleva up without using his arms—only his waist and his hip.

“They are simply superb,” the company’s director Ilina Dubovskaya said, with tour manager Nadia Fleishaker serving as a translator. “They are very emotional, and they are highly professional. The stars sometimes perform with this company and sometimes perform as stars in Bolshoi and Mariinsky and all different leading companies.”

Don Quixote’s “squire” Sancho Panza (Valerii Kravtsov), Kitri’s father Lorenzo (Yaroslav Alkhnovich) and Gamash (Dmitriy Trukhachev) kept the audience laughing with over-the-top pantomime. Rounding out the cast were Liliya Orekhova as the Queen of the Dryads, Maria Khrapova as Cupid, and Anna Ivanova and Kateryna Tokareva as Kitri’s friends.

The corps de ballet, or the supporting dance ensemble, dazzled in colorful period costumes, such as red-blooded matadors with sweeping capes and seductive street dancers with hand-held fans. Although the ensemble performed to pre-recorded tracks, they added some live music by playing tambourines and castanets on stage.

“The company comes before each performance at least for 7, 8 hours before,” Dubovskaya said. “They do the whole class which takes almost two hours, and they do rehearse the performance.”

The Moscow City Ballet was founded in 1988 by Victor Smirnov-Golovanov as the first private Russian ballet company in the Soviet Union.

The choreography for “Don Quixote,” which was created by Marius Petipa for its 1869 premiere, was updated by Smirnov-Golovanov for his own company. Ludmila Nerubachtchenko took over as artistic director of the Moscow City Ballet after Smirnov-Golovanov, her husband, died in 2013.

Dubovskaya said the dancers keep to Smirnov-Golovanov’s choreography as a tribute to him.

“Don Quixote” is a ballet combined the Russian dance style and the music of Austrian composer Ludwig Minkus, along with Spanish flair and flavor.

“[The dancers] try to keep the same traditions,” Dubovskaya said. “They never change, and they like this choreography because it’s more dynamic and more unique.”

The company tours across Europe, Asia and South America, but this year’s tour marks the first time in 15 years that company has performed in the United States, Dubovskaya said.

“This is another opportunity to be in this beautiful country and to enjoy the audience and the country,” she said.

Fleishaker said the dancers of the Moscow City Ballet particularly enjoy performing for American audiences.

“A lot of company members told me that American audiences were the best because it’s a little bit different,” Fleishaker said. “It’s warmer and more exciting. They love American audiences.”

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