What do ballet dancers do on summer vacation? Most young dancers study even more intensively, often traveling across the country to attend audition-based programs at prestigious professional schools. Professional dancers usually take a short break, but often use that time to return as teachers to their home studios or other training centers.
Fortunately for the Portland area, Maine State Ballet offers its own summer intensive, so that most of the dancers stay local and are available for rehearsing a summer performance. This summer, the ballet’s guest teachers included visiting alums Leigh-Ann and Sara Esty, of Miami City Ballet, and Broadway’s Robyn Hurder.
On Friday evening, the results of the summer’s training and rehearsing were on stunning display in the first of several performances of the full-length ballet “Don Quixote.” The dancers were in particularly fine form, in both movement and acting.
Janet and Glenn Davis starred as Kitri and her suitor, Basilio. The Davises always dance beautifully together, and in this performance there were moments when their musical sympathy was even more striking, including wonderfully synced leaps. Their timing was also brilliant in comedic moments, which included inventive leaps and tosses.
Although the ballet’s story, created in the 19th century by composer Ludwig Minkus and choreographer Marius Petipa, springs from Cervantes’ novel, it centers on Kitri, with Don Quixote (Frederick Bernier) himself a supporting character.
Nonetheless, Don Quixote does appear throughout and helps set the tone for the ballet. Bernier invested the role with long-faced romanticism as he sought after Dulcinea (ethereally portrayed here by Madeline Miele), demonstrated how to treat a lady and even tilted briefly at a windmill.
Bernier’s Sancho Panza was Jonathan Miele, who captivated the audience with his stage presence and hilarious hijinks. Actors James Herrera and Christine Marshall added interest as Kitri’s innkeeper father and his barmaid, and Ron Trell was simpering and funny as Count Gamache.
Other featured dancers included Rhiannon Pelletier, sizzling as Mercedes, with impressive sustain and precision, especially in her turns. As Espada, a matador, Maiki Saito added fancy maneuvers with his red-lined cape to strong dancing that included ankle-beating leaps.
Katie Farwell, as Queen of the Gypsies, performed in bare feet with aloofness, earthiness and deliberate avoidance of balletic style. As Cupid amid the Dryads of Don Quixote’s vision, Adrienne Pelletier was delightfully puckish, with a marvelous blend of fast footwork, flowing arms, flirtatious looks and outstanding balance and timing.
Michael Holden, yet another Maine State Ballet alum (also now with Miami City Ballet) choosing to spend his vacation with the company, made a breathtaking featured appearance as King of the Gypsies. It’s been a pleasure to watch this gifted young dancer mature over the last few years, and his guest performance was a treat. He positively smoldered in the role, alternately sinuous and taking flight in smooth, sustained, sky-high leaps.
Artistic director Linda MacArthur Miele has staged “Don Quixote” with a mix of the traditional choreography and her own, making full use of each dancer’s technical and theatrical strengths. The result is a dramatic but lighthearted blend of detailed musicality, beauty, personality, pizazz and humor that makes each of the three acts wholly absorbing.
The performance called into focus the company’s accomplishment in staging full-length ballets in its own theater. As any dancer knows, it’s more challenging to perform classically in a smaller room, where theatrical illusion can be more elusive than in a larger space with a raised stage and thousands of seats.
Here, the stage’s depth and design, the costumes and sets by Gail Csoboth and the performers’ professionalism and panache combined to keep the illusion in place, at the same time that the audience could enjoy the dancers’ facial expressions (Janet Davis as Kitri was especially captivating in this regard, every nanosecond of the way) and the Spanish-inspired claps and finger snaps that accompanied several variations.
Bravo and brava, Maine State Ballet.
Jennifer Brewer is a freelance writer who lives in Saco.