Since 1995 Chicago has had the distinct privilege and pride to host the premier internationally recognized Joffrey Ballet. For their closing 2021/2022 season, they are performing Don Quixote on the Lyric Stage. Just as we need a break from the harsh realities of our current troubled times, Yuri Possokhov’s inventive, creative choreography invites us along to one of Miguel de Cervantes‘ 1605 novels’, protagonist, Don Quixote’s imaginary escapades.
Quixote’s adventures break from the harsh reality of his times. Quixote’s journeys are sparked by his obsession with chivalric novels. He is an older minor aristocrat seeking noble ventures as a self-appointed hero knight with his comic sidekick former petty thief, Sancho Panza.
This is a light-hearted joyful ballet for all audiences. It is a rom-com, family-friendly, production; that will engage and delight everyone. You cannot help but be thoroughly impressed with Nicholas Blanc and the company’s staging. The music by Ludwig Minkus sets the mood perfectly. The background projections by Wendall Harrington are magnificent at setting the atmosphere for the 16th century La Mancha region of Spain. Including Gustave Dore’s inspired etched illustrations from Cervante’s novel is a brilliant thoughtful design element. Travis Halsey’s costumes are elegant and gorgeous. The Joffrey principal dancers and ensemble take your breath away with their athleticism and phenomenal prowess. The Lyric Opera Orchestra’s beautiful accompaniment and the dancers’ timing equal flawless perfection.
This production of Don Quixote starring the indomitable, Miguel Angel Blanco, uses every tool in its arsenal to make the storyline clear to its audience. The ballet’s thoughtful and artfully designed program summarizes each scene carefully. The story begins in Don Quixote’s bed chamber with Basilo, the town barber, portrayed by the handsome dynamic Dylan Gutierrez giving Quixote a shave and flirting unsuccessfully with the housemaid, Lauren Bemisderfer. The comedy ensues with the housemaid returning with a heavy medieval tome. She dramatically and sarcastically drops it on her master’s desk. He retires with relish and delight to his bed to read it while dreaming of knights and heroic deeds. His sleep is interrupted by Sancho Panza, Derrick Agnoletti, whose physical machinations and gyrations throughout the venue are hysterically funny. Panza enters carrying a stolen ham while being pursued by the maid. He hides under a table. Quixote awakes to the chaos and confusion and deems the petty thief, Sanchez, his squire. Armed with a bedpost lance, sword, shield, and Rocinante, Quixote’s faithful nag, playfully performed by Andre McGregor II and David Oldano, the trio embarks on a journey for conquest and romance.
A sideline to their adventures is a romance between Barber Basilio, Dylan Gutierrez, and Kitri, Victoria Jaiani. Lorenzo. The innkeeper, dramatic Raul Casasola, Kitri’s father, at every turn attempts to thwart the lover’s relationship. He is determined that Kitri marry Gamache, a rich, old, foppish, high nobleman, expertly portrayed by Fernando Duarte. The pas de Deux performed by Jaini and Gutierrez are wonderfully, intimately romantic and poetry in motion. Jaiani astounds the audience with her too many to count fouetté turns. While the tall powerful Guiterrez’s soaring leaps and lifts astound the audience with audible gasps and out loud “Wows.” The romantic couple both float through the air.
My favorite performances of the opening evening were the mesmerizing, top-notch dances of Espada, Stefan Goncalvez, the famous Matador, and his companion toreadors. Mercedes, Brooke Linford, the flamenco street dancer was captivating. The town folks Joffrey ensemble percussively clapping and their accompaniment with jaunty tambourines was joyous.
I was also surprised and amazed by the flying effects coordinated by Flying by Foy. I now understand where the term tilting at windmills comes from. At one point in the production, Quixote mistakes windmills for giant demons and unsuccessfully tries to battle them to obtain a royal knighthood. It was an unexpected quite thrilling scene. This was a magical evening that sees Quixote uniting the lovers together as his most romantic, heroic accomplishment.
The finale was spectacular with gold glitter raining down on the cast. We were treated to The Final Bow Celebration for retiring Joffrey dancers: Derrick Agnoletti, April Daly, Anna Gerberich, Chole Sherman, and Temur Suluashvili for their incredible performances. It was a wonderful tribute, but a bit disappointing considering that dancers at the pinnacle of their talents are closing out their Joffrey career. They received grateful audience adulation, gorgeous bouquets, and a long-standing ovation.
Lyric Opera of Chicago while welcoming you graciously requires that all audience members mask up for the entire performance. For everyone’s safety and peace of mind, you must provide valid photo identification and proof of two or more doses of vaccine against Covid-19 as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or World Health Organization (WHO) in order to enter the Lyric Opera House.
Photos: Courtesy of Cheryl Mann