If you’d been passing by 800 Bagby last night, just before 11 o’clock, you’d have seen the strangest sight. Hundreds of people in all manner of dress pouring out of the Hobby Center to take to the downtown Houston streets humming and whirling, snapping their fingers and leaping across puddles on their way to their cars. Men in street shoes en pointe, women doing scarves dances, children picking up lances riding atop horses while jousting at windmills.
Buoyed by the wonderful music of Alois Louis Minkus, in turns exuberant and poignant with haunting violin strains throughout, Houston Ballet’s dancers – both leads and the ensemble — acquitted themselves admirably last night in Don Quixote and carried all of us along with them.
Cervantes’ Don Quixote is the story of a man who decided he wanted to right the world’s wrongs while seeking his mystical true love, Dulcinea. Protected and guided by his companion Sancho Panza, Don Quixote wanders the countryside, while mistaking windmills and his own shadow for monsters.
For the first time in 12 years, Houston Ballet brought back former Houston Ballet Artistic Director Ben Stevenson’s choreographed version complete with its boundless joy and energy. Much of the story and action is focused on the two young lovers, the barber Basilio and the innkeeper’s daughter Kitri who could be very happy together if Kitri’s father would stop trying to match her with nobleman Gamache (played with suitable foppishness by Oliver Halkowich). Don Quixote mistakenly believes Kitri is his Dulcinea for a time, but that, of course, gets righted by the end.
Soloist Mónica Gómez got her big moment as Kitri in Don Quixote on opening night and especially as the ballet progressed was up to the challenge. In a marathon performance she had to be fiery, passionate, funny, exacting and fearless. She was all that and in the lyrical middle section, both beautiful and eloquent.
Principal Charles-Louis Yoshiyama as Basilio commanded the stage with charisma to spare. His leaps were athletic and beautiful, his partnering smooth and seemingly effortless and when he was absent for a time in the second act he was missed.
First soloist Linnar Looris, although he didn’t get much chance to show his dancing ability other than a few partnering moments in which in keeping with the old age of his character he remained somewhat immobile, has a future after ballet should he want to take up a career in mime. Beyond the physical limitations, Looris had to pantomime what was going on in Don Quixote’s muddled head and did so expressively. Would that all communication could be so clear.
And what a trooper as he dramatically rode out on a white horse on stage. The horse (unnamed in the program) gave a calm measured performance surrounded by the company and with an audience of hundreds stretched out in front.
The other trooper award should go to Christopher Gray as the loyal retainer Sancho Panza when he is thrown up into the air repeatedly by a crowd to ever higher heights. How often did they rehearse that scene?
Principal Jessica Collado made the most of her part as the street dancer. With her fine technique and flair for acting, as usual she’s an audience eye-magnet as she moves across the stage or even stands on the sidelines.
Visually stunning, a lot of credit has to go to costume designer Judanna Lynn, scenic designer Thomas Boyd and ever dependable lighting designer Christina R. Giannelli.
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It’s a shame the ballet, limited by lack of a home at present (as the Wortham Center reconstruction continues) and dependent upon the good graces of other performing arts venues couldn’t extend these performances because this ballet is something to see for any age.
“It’s wonderful,” said the woman seated next to me at the end. “Are you a writer? (She’d seen me taking notes). You need to write that it’s wonderful,” she said in what I took to be a Russian accent. “I have been to the Bolshoi and I tell you, Houston Ballet is the best. It is the best. Tell them.”
Now’s your chance to find out for yourself.
Performances continue through April 15 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Hobby Center, 800 Bagby. For information, call 713-227-2787 or visit houstonballet.org. $39 to $196.