Ballet review

PBT superb in its quest of 'Quixote'

Good humor and chivalry reigned side by side as Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre brought its 2013-14 season to a close with the ballet romp "Don Quixote."

Considered one of the most popular full-length classical ballets, this work stands out for its virtuosic dancing designed to excite the audience, something easily accomplished Friday at the Benedum Center.

But a full-length ballet makes its greatest impact as a package. PBT artistic director Terrence Orr switched gears to the Houston Ballet production, with Thomas Boyd's impressive scenery, including an inviting village and a dominant windmill, Judanna Lynn's color-coded costumes -- perhaps overdone but still richly rewarding -- and Christina Giannelli's atmospheric lighting.

Aside from a few off notes in the brass, the orchestra charged through Ludwig Minkus' sunny score, one of the most tantalizing in the classical ballet repertoire. Conductor Charles Barker brought out the best in the dancers, changing tempo at the drop of a hat to support various technical challenges. It was a real asset to the performance.

This ballet is not all about the title character, played by Steven Annegarn, and his sidekick Sancho Panza (Kurtis Sprowls), but about a chapter in his search for the perfect woman. Here the Don comes upon a village and Kitri, the daughter of the innkeeper, along with her romantic interest, Basilio, a poor barber.

The dancers took full advantage of these elements, especially in the first act. It was well-nigh perfect, from Alexandra Kochis' opening leap, filled with brio, as the spirited Kitri. Ms. Kochis has had a recent awakening that began in the company's "3x3" at the August Wilson Center. It could be that her pairing with Alejandro Diaz, here playing Basilio, has revealed a new dimension in her.

The two have a real connection -- he, at 6 foot 4, is suave and protective of her, and the petite ballerina responds with confidence and perhaps a sense of exhilaration from his rocket-propelled lifts. At any rate, she has taken her stage presence and technique to a new level, and Mr. Diaz gave a strong debut in a bravura role teeming with speedy turns and jumps usually given to shorter men.

The second act moved to a gypsy camp where Eva Trapp stood out for her uninhibited movement. It set the stage for the Don's dream sequence, much like a sorbet, and featuring a piquant Amour (JoAnna Schmidt).

Nurlan Abougaliev was all flair and flourish as Espada, garnering the biggest applause of the night, and leading an impressive contingent of matadors. Elysa Hotchkiss as Mercedes was at her best in the upright focus of the first- and third-act solos, less so in the second, where the looseness of her head softened the phrasing too much.

The third-act wedding contains perhaps the most famous of all pas de deux, one that is a regular at ballet competitions all over the world. Despite a few flaws, Ms. Kochis and Mr. Diaz had already captured the audience, allowing the ballet to come to a climactic ending.

The performance was dedicated to longtime PBT conductor Akira Endo, who died April 3 in Boulder, Colo. In addition to his bold trademark "Nutcracker" jackets, he left behind another legacy, having edited new editions for some of the company's classic ballets, including "Don Quixote."

Former Post-Gazette critic Jane Vranish: She blogs at

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