When the Gelsey Kirkland Academy of Classical Dance and the Gelsey Kirkland Ballet move to their new home in the St. Ann’s Warehouse Theater in Brooklyn this June, they’ll not only have five large studios and a 300-seat theater at their disposal, but they will be smack dab in the middle of one of the trendiest, most art-friendly communities in the city. The prospects are exciting, and few will be surprised when the borough enthusiastically embraces and supports Gelsey’s Russian-tradition trained dancers and the authentic content of their performances such as the one Haglund caught on Saturday night.
The Gelsey Kirkland Ballet’s spring season at the Schimmel Center at Pace University just concluded with a vibrant production of Don Quixiote. The Petipa/Gorsky based version was staged by Gelsey and her team including Nikolai Levitsky, Vera Solovieva, Lyubov Fominich, Alexandra Lawler and Liudmila Polonskaya. Pilar Garcia provided additional mime coaching. Michael Chernov directed. To say that these stagers, coaches, teachers, directors, along with the other faculty and musicians have done a wondrous job with the young artists would be a total understatement. This crew has “nailed it” and the result is a Don Quixote that is fresh, brilliantly danced, and fully lived by all of the artists on stage.
We’ve been following Gelsey’s journey with her school and company for the last six years as it has gained traction in the New York area with its outstanding full versions of The Nutcracker, La Sylphide, Sleeping Beauty, and an array of tantalizing repertory pieces such as Harlequinade, Cavalry Halt and excerpts from Swan Lake, Napoli, Flames of Paris, and La Bayadere – and now this huge undertaking of Don Quixote.
While the artists' levels of ballet technique and facilities are wide-ranging, what has begun to appear is a distinct group pedigree marked by fundamental knowledge of styles and a commitment to bringing the proper one to the stage each time with full theatrical weight. Call it artistic intelligence. Even the smallest children who appeared with their feet seemingly glued to the floor in little flat-footed bourrees had complete command of their mime.
Saturday evening’s cast was led by the charismatic artists Dawn Gierling as Kitri, Johnny Almeida as Basilio, Anderson Souza as Espada, Sabina Alvarez as the Street Dancer, Nagi Wakisaka as the Dryads Queen, Nina Yoshida as Amour, India Rose and Natalia Sheptalova as the Flower Girls. There were several substitutions announced quickly at curtain; our apologies for any mess-up on cast details.
All of the dancers possessed technique in spades: academically correct with strength enough to exploit the rules without offending them.
Kitri’s hops on pointe were accompanied by full circle ronde de jambes. Her fouettes alternated with double revolutions, not just for the first 16 but all the way through to the end. She delighted with her fiery, quick-tempered articulation in Act I, creamy port de bras and a sense of mystery as Dulcinea in the Act II Enchanted Forest scene, and elegance, beauty, and poise in the Wedding PdD.
The very slim Basilio pressed Kitri over his head and confidently held her there with one arm like she was made of paper. His specialty pirouettes included ones in which the arms rose above his head with a final flourish of the wrists and palms turning toward the sky. To see the intense joy and determination in his face while standing behind Kitri and turning her like a wizard was a little reminiscent of the intensity we recall in Kirkland herself.
There was so much to admire in classical dancing skills in this production, but equally impressive were the high levels of character dancing. This story relies on the storytelling efforts of the Sequidilla Ladies and Men, the Torreadors, the gypsies, townfolk, and the all important Don Quixote (Alexander Mays), Sancho Panza (Marcus Salazar), Lorenzo (Samuel Humphreys), and Gamache (Erez Ben-Zion Milatin). Again, there were substitutions announced at curtain too quickly to make note. The serious investment that Gelsey’s staff has made in character development, traditional character dances, and authentic mime has paid off handsomely in each and every artist.
The work of set designer Court Watson, costume designer Michael Chernov and his team of six, and scenic artists at Infinite Scenic all contributed extraordinary elements to this production.
Isn’t this painted scrim magnificent? Haglund knows that he wasn’t supposed to take a picture of it, but heck, everyone else was; so, why not?
[Edited to add: We received word from the company that this scrim is originally from the New York City Opera's production of Barber of Seville - which, in our opinion, makes it all the more wonderful.]
Look at the layers of detail in the fan, the richness of the palette, the distinct artistry in the design. What you see in this fan represents what we saw in the dancing on stage. All of it was so enjoyable. We can’t wait to be standing at the door for this company’s first performance in their new Brooklyn home.
The H.H. Pump Bump Award is going to have to be shared by many – actually by everyone who contributed to this stunning production: