There's so much to like about Angel Corella's new Don Quixote, which the Pennsylvania Ballet premiered Thursday night at the Academy of Music.
The artistic director upped the Spanish feel and authenticity of the ballet's classic Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov steps, set to Ludwig Minkus' well-known score. This can be seen in Ana Calderón's flamenco Gypsy, a rhythmic-gymnastlike cape dance from Jermel Johnson as Espada, the matadors' scene, and other touches.
Mayara Piñeiro sparkled as Kitri. She embraced the overall flavor of the role, but her most obvious delights were her steady balance and pirouettes. She began with nine - or was it 10? - revolutions before continuing into her series of fouettes. Her acting was spot on, too, particularly in the range of emotions when Basilio (her real-life fiancé, Etienne Díaz, who was also excellent) fakes his death. The trust between the two was obvious, as Piñeiro leapt from a sizable distance into Díaz's arms.
Opening night was packed with stellar performances: Lauren Fadeley as Mercedes; Calderón and Arián Molina Soca as the Gypsies; Oksana Maslova, as the Queen of the Dryads; Kathryn Manger as a spritely Amor; and Holly Lynn Fusco and Laura Bowman's frequent appearances as the flower girls.
The character roles were wonderful, too, played mostly by former dancers and with great humor. Choreographer-in-residence Matthew Neenan was a bumbly aristocratic Gamache, whom Kitri could never marry. Ballet master (and former New York City Ballet principal dancer) Charles Askegard and former BalletX dancer R. Colby Damon were Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, particularly hilarious for their extreme height differences.
Thursday night's performance also showed how far the Pennsylvania Ballet has come in the last few years. The corps de ballet was as precise as it has rarely been, most evident in the Dryad dream sequence, chilling in the best way.
Corella had said he was looking for the bright sun-washed feeling of Spain, and the enormous sets, looking more real-city than anonymous ballet courtyard, captured that. The costumes, which included shawls, combs, and other bits Corella had picked up in Spain, added to the authenticity.
Thursday night's premiere was not perfect: There were lots of little hops in pirouettes, bits of imperfect partnering, and a few minor wardrobe malfunctions.
But it's a pleasure to see the Pennsylvania Ballet finally perform one of the most fun and popular ballets for the first time in its 53-year history, to feel the energy coming off the stage. This Don Quixote does not leave out any of the classic bits. It just ups the ante.
Through March 13 at the Academy of Music, Broad and Locust Streets.