Weekend Highlights

Published February 7, 2012
Going Places

A Parent’s Review: ‘Don Quixote’ at PNB

by Ruth Schubert
seattle child article photo
Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Batkhurel Bold with company dancers in Alexei Ratmansky’s Don Quixote.
Photo © Angela Sterling

seattle child article photo
Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Carla Körbes with company dancers in Alexei Ratmansky’s Don Quixote.
Photo © Angela Sterling

I went to see PNB’s production of Don Quixote with two young ballerinas who study at the Pacific Northwest Ballet School. This stunning production is the American premier of the ballet, originally choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky for the Dutch National Ballet.

Both girls thought Don Quixote was great. I mention that the girls are students at the PNB School as a caveat: they were predisposed to enjoy the ballet, which they were able to watch the company rehearsing before and after their classes. That isn’t to say that other kids wouldn’t like Don Quixote. Indeed, there’s much for children and adults alike to enjoy in this colorful production.

Actor Tom Skerritt is cast in the role of Don Quixote, and Sancho Panzo, the Don’s “squire” and sidekick, is played by actor Allen Galli. Artistic Director Peter Boal says in his program notes that Ratmansky “wanted actors, not dancers, for these roles, which distances them from the other cast members on stage.” They do, in fact, feel set apart from the rest of the leaping, dancing action.

I completely enjoyed seeing Skerritt on stage and found his lack of balletic skill in keeping with the Don Quixote’s half-mad, dreamer character. The role mostly calls for dramatic pantomime, rather than dance steps. The girls weren’t so convinced. My daughter’s friend said, “Normally when you go to a ballet, you expect everybody to be doing ballet.” Even the children on stage, she pointed out, were doing ballet. My daughter, though, thought that Skerrit “is such a good actor that it’s OK.”

For my part, I felt that the professional actors brought a lot of pathos and humor to the roles of the would-be knight errant and his faithful squire. Note that Skerritt appears in most, but not all, of the performances. If you care, look under the “details” then “casting” tabs on PNB’s website to find out who is in each of the lead roles for each performance.

Don Quixote is a story ballet, with costumes, sets and pantomime that maintain a narrative thread. However, children are less likely to know Cervantes’ tale than the storylines of the more familiar fairy tale ballets, such as Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty. It’s best to read the program notes with children before the curtain rises to prepare them. I agreed with my daughter that Don Quixote, which runs three hours when you include the two intermissions, is not a good choice for very young children; I’d recommend it for ages 8 and up.

We had the distinct pleasure of watching Carla Korbes and Karel Cruz dance the lead roles of Kitri and Basilio. Korbes is so graceful that she makes even the most difficult steps appear effortless, and both dancers earned frequent applause during the performance and a standing ovation afterwards. I’m not a choreography expert, but I was taken by some of the lifts, leaps and spins, which struck me as both dramatic and unusual.

It also was great fun to watch the dances featuring the toreros, whose twirling pink and gold capes were as much a part of the choreography as the footwork. The dryads’ set in Act II was particularly stunning, with cascades of green and gold ribbons outlining the grove-like realm of the dryads.

Matinee performances include activities for kids beforehand. When we went, there were tables set up for children to make colorful flowers out of tissue paper. As always, order snacks for intermission before the show starts so they’ll be waiting for you.

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If You Go...

Where: McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St. (Mercer Street and 3rd Avenue N.), on the North side of the Seattle Center. Metered street parking and pay parking lots are available nearby.

When: Through Feb. 12. Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday matinees at 1 p.m.; Sunday at 7 p.m.

Cost: $28 - $168.

Contact: 206-441-2424; www.pnb.org.

Fun Facts

  • Don Quixote is the largest production in Pacific Northwest Ballet’s history. The production originally cost the Dutch National Ballet $3 million to build, and will cost PNB $860,000 to premiere.
  • Don Q is so expansive that it requires 2,200 square feet of dancing space on stage; most of PNB’s story ballets require just 1,700 to 1,800 square feet.
  • Eight shipping containers were required to transport the elaborate sets and costumes from Amsterdam to Seattle.
  • More lumber and other building materials were used to construct the ballet than were used to create PNB’s Coppélia, Cinderella and The Sleeping Beauty, combined.
  • The production utilizes 280 costumes and props, including 47 wigs and hairpieces, requiring the work of eight hair and make-up artists at each performance.  (PNB’s company is about half the size of Dutch National Ballet: Some dancers will change costumes up to five times in one performance.)
  • The hats worn by the toreadors are authentic matador hats made in Madrid.
  • The masks for the six monsters in Don Q were made by a company that worked on the Lord of the Rings movies.