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Dance Review

Boston Ballet presents its best ‘Don Quixote’ yet

Boston Ballet performs "Don Quixote" at the Citizens Bank Opera House.Rosalie O'Connor


No dance work is as closely associated with Boston Ballet as Rudolf Nureyev’s “Don Quixote.” Back in 1982, Nureyev — then a still spry 44 — staged his version of the 1869 Marius Petipa ballet for the company and also danced Basilio. That production and the subsequent tours put Boston Ballet on the international dance map. Now, “Don Quixote” is back at the Citizens Bank Opera House for its ninth Boston Ballet outing over the past 42 years — a pretty good record for a ballet that, drawing on a substory in Miguel de Cervantes’s 17th-century novel, has hardly any plot and a title character who’s mostly a spectator.

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I’ve seen all nine productions; this one is surely the best. Artistic director Mikko Nissinen has chosen Nureyev’s Paris Opera Ballet adaptation, which the company presented in 2003 and 2006. It makes as much dramatic sense as any other version, it has more and better dancing than most, and the upbeat ending is a plus. As staged by former Paris Opera Ballet étoile Clairemarie Osta, this “Don Quixote” is tender and exuberant, sly but never silly, and, very important, not underlit.

The Boston Ballet Orchestra under Mischa Santora gives lilt and life to Ludwig Minkus’s lighthearted score; the running time of almost three hours goes like the wind. And on Thursday, Ji Young Chae as Kitri/Dulcinea and Jeffrey Cirio as Basilio were just the headliners of a stellar opening-night cast.

The prologue gives us Don Quixote in his old-fashioned study/bedroom dreaming of knight errantry. He imagines he sees the lady Dulcinea threatened by Goya-esque owl monsters, so he appoints Sancho Panza as his squire, saddles up noble steed Rocinante, and sets out for a bustling Barcelona marketplace overseen by two massive towers surmounted by cannons. There he finds barber Basilio and pretty Kitri hoping to marry but up against her innkeeper father Lorenzo’s insistence on wealthy but pathetic Gamache as a son-in-law. The young couple flee to the mountains and take refuge with a band of travelers camped under a giant windmill; Don Quixote, who’s followed them, tilts at the windmill, with predictable results, and has a blessed vision of Dulcinea dancing with a company of Dryads and their Queen. Back in town, at a tavern whose walls are studded with bullfight posters, Basilio fakes stabbing himself and Don Quixote, waving Gamache away with his lance, persuades Lorenzo to let Kitri marry her dying lover — whereupon Basilio miraculously recovers and the customary ballet-ending festivities ensue, the final scene graced by the wagons of the travelers who’ve been invited to the wedding.

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Boston Ballet's Ji Young Chae in Rudolf Nureyev's "Don Quixote."Rosalie O'Connor

When Boston Ballet last did “Don Quixote,” in 2012, Cirio was the opening-night Basilio. Since then, he’s been a principal at American Ballet Theatre and English National Ballet; now he’s back with Boston Ballet. Thursday he and Chae were in emotional and comic synch, fresh, flirtatious, nimble in their footwork, sinuous in their traveler disguises, and direct in their appeal to the audience. His double tours, barrel turns, and tours à la seconde were spot on, and, like Nureyev, he looks good turning in either direction. She was sublime in her ronds de jambe while traveling on pointe, her passé relevé sequence, her standing unsupported on pointe in attitude and arabesque, and her 32 fouettés.

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Don Quixote himself is too often a senile dodderer; Daniel Rubin was creaky in body but youthfully quixotic in spirit. Sancho Panza is too often lecherous and gluttonous; Isaac Akiba was a cheerful young monk with a healthy appetite and an innocent eye for the ladies. Alec Roberts’s Lorenzo was more practical than greedy; John Lam made Gamache an endearing and nuanced fop. Lia Cirio as street dancer Mercedes and Tigran Mkrtchyan as matador Espada smoldered in the fandango. In the Vision Scene, Chisako Oga was an impish Amour and Viktorina Kapitonova a warm, regal Dryad Queen with fluid Italian fouettés. Sun Woo Lee’s Lead Traveler contributed a manège of impressive Russian squat kicks; Seo Hye Han sparkled as the Maid of Honor; the corps, as always, provided a sumptuous backdrop. If there’s a better version of “Don Quixote” out there, I haven’t seen it.

DON QUIXOTE

Music by Ludwig Minkus, adapted and arranged by John Lanchbery. Choreography by Rudolf Nureyev after Marius Petipa and Alexander Gorsky. Staging, Clairemarie Osta. Sets and costumes, Nicholas Georgiadis. Lighting, Brandon Stirling Baker. Presented by Boston Ballet. At Citizens Bank Opera House, through March 26. Tickets $39-$194. 617-695-6955, www.bostonballet.org

Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at jeffreymgantz@gmail.com.


Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at jeffreymgantz@gmail.com.