The Royal Ballet’s ‘Don Quixote’ at The Kennedy Center

Carlos Acosta’s Don Quixote is a Royal treat

Sometimes balletomanes can only distinguish between a truly great dance concert and a very fine one by noting how many goose bumps pop up on their arms. It’s a different sort of body language that can be “spot on,” especially with an old warhorse ballet revived spectacularly by a superstar who knows the work well.

 Carlos Acosta as Basilio photo by Johan Persson.

Carlos Acosta as Basilio photo by Johan Persson.

Well, this longtime dance writer’s body positively erupted in tiny bumps last evening at The Kennedy Center when Great Britain’s Royal Ballet danced Carlos Acosta’s rendition of Petipa’s 1869 romp, Don Quixote. At last night’s opening (the U.S. premiere of his full-length ballet), we were treated to a first-rate cast, led by two authentic Latin lovers, the Cuban-born Acosta, listed as “Principal Guest Artist” and Argentine beauty Marianel Nunez, a favorite of the Brits.

Having danced Don Q with the Ballet Nacional de Cuba and Houston Ballet, among other luminary companies, the mighty Acosta still possesses charisma on stage and the power to pull off both playful and daring technique. As Basilio, the love-struck barber, he leads Kitri (Nunez) through hilarious misadventures in search of true love. Yet, he never falters in lifting the innkeeper’s daughter (and his Dulcinea) high above his head or gently lowering her softly to the ground, though they don’t stay there very long.

Nunez conveys an instantly likable and engaging stage persona from her first Grand Jete, almost sitting in the air as the crowd gasped. Last night’s audience was ready for razor-sharp footwork, and we weren’t disappointed with her fearless attack and quickness. But she can also be lyrical, as seen in the second act dream sequence that resembles Giselle with its haunting beauty and spooky atmosphere.

The Royal Ballet’s Director Kevin O’Hare beamed during the intermission, obviously pleased with the audience approval of the ballet, and, especially, its stars. Costa, who attributes Petipa in the production and choreography credits, has said he wanted the ballet “to be fun (and) to capture – and hold – the attention of American audiences.”

And so it does. It is hard to imagine anyone failing to enjoy this ballet with its blend of comedy and romance, its Spanish-flavored dances and flashy, bravura solos. The music by Ludwig Minkus, arranged and orchestrated by Martin Yates, adds to the magic – we were humming the ballet score on the ride home. Kudos, too, to Set Designer Tim Hatley who created a windmill that increased in size as it moved side to side downstage.

Artists of the Royal Ballet. Photo by Johan Persson.
Artists of the Royal Ballet. Photo by Johan Persson.

The comedic roles appear overblown at times, but who doesn’t enjoy the antics of a likable buffoon, Philip Mosley as Sancho Panza, or Christopher Saunders as the impossible dreamer?

This Don Quixote is really not so much about the Don as it is the story of the love between Basilio and Kitri whose father wants her to marry a rich landowner. It’s easy to see why Kitri dumps the old guy for her younger (and much more handsome) lover. Into this tangled affair come Cervantes’ quasi-knight and his sidekick, one carrying a pole to tilt at windmills, the other saddled on a mechanical War Horse. Everyone in the village – a pretty setting that resembles old Havana – celebrates love and marriage in the third act finale.

Acosta’s choreographic touches include macho Matadors – the kind of muscularity you would expect from Spain’s bullfighters. Nice touches for Ryoichi Hirano (Espada, a Famous Matador), Melissa Hamilton (Queen of the Dryads), and Gary Avis (Lorenzo, the Innkeeper) – all who kept the story moving forward through dance.

With a score jam-packed with gorgeous waltzes and a plot thick with festive gatherings, wicked disguises, and mistaken identifies, The Royal Ballet’s Don Quixote delights both young and old.

Running Time: Almost three hours, with two 20-minute intermissions.

RATING:  FIVE-STARS-82x1555.gif

The Royal Ballet dances Carlos Acosta’s Don Quixote through Sunday afternoon, June 14, 2015 in the Opera House at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts – 2700 F St. NW, in Washington, DC. Acosta and Marianela Nunez will perform together Friday evening, and Russian prima ballerina Natalia Osipova dances the role of Kitri on Saturday evening. For tickets, call the Box Office at (202) 467-4600 or toll free (800) 4434-1324, or purchase the online.

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Carolyn Kelemen is an award-winning arts critic and feature writer for the Baltimore Sun, Howard County Times, and Columbia Flier - 45 years and counting. The Columbia resident earned her Masters Degree in Dance at Mills College in California and has taught college and graduate courses at Goucher College, Loyola, the College of Notre Dame and Howard Community College. A professional dancer throughout the East Coast in the late 50s and early 60s, she was trained in classical ballet, modern dance, jazz and tap. Her TV/film career includes MPT’s “ weeknight Alive” and years of local productions in the Maryland/DC area. Carolyn is a longtime member of the Dance Critics of America, the American Theatre Critics Association. She has proudly produced the “A Labor of Love” AIDS benefits since 1988.


  1. I went to see how ballet told the story on the Don quest, like Scottish Ballet performance of Streetcar recently. For me, ballet should be a means to advance or at least explain the story line. This performance was great but it was mostly to show the abilities of the dancers, not to advance the story.


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