It's a rare performance that evokes such joie de vivre that audience members leave the venue humming and snapping their fingers. After last month's production of Houston Ballet's Don Quixote, our reviewer described the joyful trip back to cars: "Men in street shoes en pointe, women doing scarves dances, children picking up lances riding atop horses while jousting at windmills."
Our only sadness was that this reprisal of Don Quixote after a 12-year hiatus, with choreography by former Artistic Director Ben Stevenson, was only back for a short four-performance run.
Now for the good news: Houston Ballet's outdoor performances program is bringing the three-act ballet to Miller Outdoor Theatre for three nights in May, dovetailing with a celebration of the venue's 95th anniversary on Saturday night. Mayor Sylvester Turner is pulling out all the stops and has challenged Houstonians to bring a friend on May 12, take a selfie with the hashtag #CelebrateMiller and (fingers crossed) set an all-time attendance record for the popular Hermann Park venue.
Soloist Christopher Coomer and soloist Oliver Halkowich will dance the roles of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza during all three performances. With several principal dancers out on maternity leave, it opens the door for others to take the stage and we'll see three different dancers take on the role of Kitri, the innkeeper's daughter. Her lover, Basilio, will be danced by principal Jared Matthews, principal Connor Walsh and Carlos Quenedit (all casting subject to change).
So how exactly does the Houston Ballet move an entire production to the Miller stage? "Not all of the scenery could fit at the Hobby Center [in April], the set was originally designed for the Wortham which is the biggest theater in town. We had to cut back some of the scenery," says Andrew Nielsen, Houston Ballet's Director of Production.
"It’s going to be seven trucks worth of scenery and lighting. It takes us four days to load it in and, because it’s an outdoor theater, we can only rehearse at night and focus the lights," says Nielsen. "We start at 8 p.m. and work until two or three in the morning."
Nielsen says they're actually bringing more scenery than was used at Miller Outdoor Theatre a dozen years ago, and that everything has been touched up with fresh paint. "It’s definitely tight; there’s no wing space. When act one is on stage, where do you put act two, plus the horse and dancers."
So yes, Dutchess the white horse will be there for all three shows. They found out that one of their stage hands was the horse wrangler 12 years ago. "We hired him again, he procured a horse and the two of them come and hang out on stage," says Nielsen. "We try not to feed her beforehand; we don't want any accidents on stage."
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They only have one rehearsal night to fine-tune the choreography, asking the same number of dancers to move in a tighter space, especially when Don Quixote dreams of his fantasy love Dulcinea surrounded by dryads in act two.
"It’s one of the bolder, classic ballets. Just bubbly and light. There’s a story to follow," says Nielsen. "There are a lot of points during the ballet that give the audience a chance to react. They were just eating it up [at the Hobby Center]."
One of those audience members told our reviewer that the Houston Ballet's performance was better than the Bolshoi Ballet. So now's your chance to see what just might be the best ballet in the world, for free, while also celebrating 95 years of Miller Outdoor Theatre.
Performances of Don Quixote are scheduled for 8 p.m. May 11-13, Miller Outdoor Theatre, 6000 Hermann Park Drive, 281-373-3386, milleroutdoortheatre.com, free.