‘‘How mad must one be to mistake a windmill for a monstrous giant?’’ an audience member unfamiliar with Miguel de Cervantes’ literary masterpiece must have been wondering when Don Quixote lashes out at the harmless inanimate object, eventually passing out from exhaustion.
This iconic scene from Cervantes’ Don Quixote was just one of the many laughter-inducing, fantastical moments in Columbia University Ballet Ensemble’s Friday night performance. Inspired by the original choreographies of Marius Petipa, Alexander Gorsky, and the American Ballet Theatre, CUBE’s “Don Quixote” ran from April 12 to 14 at the Manhattan Movement & Arts Center. The ballet boasted a cast of talented dancers from all levels of experience that brought out the comedy, whimsy, and beauty in the acclaimed work.
“CUBE is an all-inclusive dance group, and basically everyone who auditions is cast in a role. And this is really unique to CUBE, specifically in the ballet world, because ballet tends to be a little bit more selective in terms of the dancers they cast in shows,” Artistic Director Kayla Glaser, BC ’20, said.
With music composed by Ludwig Minkus, the ballet included various scenes from Cervantes’ proto-novel but also featured new characters and a storyline as ingenious as the famous hidalgo himself. CUBE’s entirely student-run adaptation consisted of a prologue and three acts.
Set in Barcelona, rather than Don Quixote’s homeland of La Mancha, the young Kitri falls in love with a guitar-playing, aspiring barber named Basilio. Kitri’s strict, neurotic mother, Lorenza, played by Elizabeth Gardner, BC ’21, disapproves of their relationship and insists that Kitri marry the foolish yet rich nobleman Gamache, played by Max Waldroop, GS ’20. Don Quixote, followed by his sometimes faithful squire Sancho Panza, unexpectedly encounters Kitri and Basilio, mistaking the former for his beloved Dulcinea.
Kasey Broekema, CC ’20, who played Kitri on April 12 and 14, masterfully engaged the audience with her expressive gestures, pantomimes, and graceful skill. Alex Susi, CC ’20, who played Basilio on April 12 and 14 as well, displayed elegance, gallantry, and pure joy in every pas de deux and solo routine.
“I think I cast [Kasey] because she has a beautiful expression to her. She’s really good at just getting out there and really relating everything to the audience with her facial expressions. ... We also thought Kasey and Alex had really good chemistry,” Glaser said.
Don Quixote and Sancho end up helping the lovers solve their predicament, and Kitri and Basilio end up happily married. But this merry ending is preceded by the encounter with the “horrendous” windmill and a dream sequence featuring Cupid, played by Glaser; the Queen of Dryads, played by Tian Griffin, BC ’21; and Dulcinea herself, played by Christine Blackshaw, SEAS ’21.
In both of these wondrous scenes, Don Quixote, played by Ari DeArriz, SEAS ’20, didn’t impress the audience with pirouettes or arabesques. Instead, DeArriz complemented every dance sequence by demonstrating a bit of the confidence that characterizes the knight errant while dazzling viewers with his lighthearted, romantic portrayal. DeArriz relied on exaggeratedly courteous gestures, overly dramatic reactions, and even a few props, including Don Quixote’s reliable spear, to showcase his talents onstage.
This interpretation of Don Quixote’s character was ideal for CUBE’s purpose of inclusivity; everyone had something different to bring to the table. Whether with their expressiveness, skill, or passion, every dancer enlivened the stage with their presence and unique abilities.
The choreography, imbued with flamenco handclaps and gravity-defying jetés, resisted the tragicomedy in Cervantes’ work. With Kayla Glaser and Sophia Ware, GS ’20, at the helm, the creative team behind CUBE’s “Don Quixote” opted to present the more playful and cheerful sides of the original tale.
Even at its funniest, the ballet allowed the audience to appreciate the dancers’ elegance and admirable dedication from start to finish.
“My biggest vision just for CUBE, in general, is to make sure everyone feels comfortable onstage and is having the best time that they possibly can … and that they’re excited and that they are passionate about the dance that we’re doing,” Glaser said.
CUBE’s entire rendition demonstrated exactly what Glaser envisioned. “Don Quixote” was a synergic, lively take on a classic piece, and it made the trek to West 60th Street more than worth it.