Ballet Stars
Photo captured via YouTube.

The ballet Don Quixote offers its principal ballerina the unique chance to play two different characters in one role: there's Kitri herself, a vivacious village girl, and then Dulcinea, Don Quixote's idealized love, who takes on the form of Kitri in his dream. The Paris Opéra Ballet's Aurélie Dupont, a former étoile and now the company's artistic director, creates distinct personas for each incarnation of her character. In this clip from a 2002 performance, Dupont dances Dulcinea's variation with serene precision, embodying the mystical beauty of Don Quixote's imagination.

Aurelie Dupont - Dulcinea www.youtube.com

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Ballet Stars
Jurgita Dronina as Kitri in "Don Quixote." Photo by Angela Sterling, Courtesy National Ballet of Canada.

When Jurgita Dronina first danced Kitri for a guest performance of Don Quixote with Teatro Filarmonico-Fondazione Arena Di Verona, she was in essence cast against type. "Before Kitri, I was dancing only lyrical or dramatic roles, so I had to start from scratch in finding my own signature in the steps and my own interpretation of the character," says Dronina, who was dancing with Royal Swedish Ballet at the time.

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Kitri's Act I variation in Don Quixote is short—but not exactly sweet. Though this clip from a 90s documentary lacks the ballet's usual setting of matadors milling around a Spanish plaza, former American Ballet Theatre principal Susan Jaffe doesn't need scenery to draw her audience in. Kitri's power moves are all about passion, and they require a certain abandon. Jaffe delivers. From the moment she snaps her fingers in her preparation to that crowd-pleasing diagonal of consecutive pirouettes, she's all fire and spice.

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Harvey as Kitri in Don Quixote. Photo by Martha Swope, via CriticalDance.org

Ballet is nothing without technique, but when a performance is accompanied by nothing more than that, it loses its allure. Not so in this 1983 clip of American Ballet Theatre’s Cynthia Harvey in Don Quixote. Here, she’s a breath of fresh air, striking the perfect balance between technique and artistry. She blends the clean lines garnered by years of training with the effusive personality of Kitri—neither aspect overshadows the other.

Although Harvey is surrounded by dancers, she stands out in part due to her sparkling charisma. She embodies Kitri’s character so well that it’s easy to forget that you’re watching a performer. Although the tempo gets increasingly faster, Harvey remains steadfast in her movements, making them fuller and more dynamic. Watch the ease with which she transitions from her waltz turns into a series of chaînés and développés at 1:30. The energy and excitement she brings to each step is magnetic, creating lasting snapshots for the audience to take with them.

In May, Harvey became the artistic director of American Ballet Theatre’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School. In addition to her work with the En Avant Foundation, a non-profit committed to mentoring young dancers, Harvey remains an active contributor to the dance world, bringing notoriety wherever she goes. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!

For more news on all things ballet, don't miss a single issue.

High-octane precision: Kuranga as Kitri in Don Quixote. Gene Schiavone, Courtesy Boston Ballet.

Don Quixote's Kitri is one of the feistiest characters in classical ballet. Nowhere is that more clear than in Don Q's gregarious first act. After an exhausting series of dances with her equally temperamental boyfriend, Basilio, she tops everything off with a fast-paced, high-energy variation full of Spanish flavor. Boston Ballet principal Misa Kuranaga shares her advice on mastering the fiery solo.

​1. Say Everything with Your Entrance

Set the tone before the dancing even begins. "You have to run onstage like a bullet, full of energy," says Kuranaga, "but it still has to be nicely done." Meanwhile, maintain a strong, Spanish-style épaulement—think flamenco dancer. "Keep your upstage shoulder up and twist your torso open." In Boston Ballet's version, choreographed by Rudolf Nureyev, Kitri uses castanets, clacking them feverishly as she runs in and throughout the variation. However, they can make your hands look awkward and unnatural. "You have to drop your wrists to make it look like you're playing with them."

​2. It's All in the Footwork

After an explosive développé and pirouette en dedans, Kitri travels upstage with sprightly runs on pointe. "I try to really overcross my front foot in front of the back foot, stepping diagonally back," says Kuranaga. "Then the back leg has to meet it to cover space."

3. Anticipate Positions

Gene Schiavone, Courtesy Boston Ballet

Midway through the variation, Kitri completes a series of huge sissonnes with the back leg in attitude, as if kicking the head. But try not to throw the moment away—use the assemblé beforehand to gather your energy into a solid fifth position plié. "For the sissonne, I think about finishing the position in the air, and then throw my head back—but not too hard," says Kuranaga.

As you land, anticipate the quick piqué and fouetté attitude that comes next. "After the sissonne, I don't shift my weight onto my front leg too much," says Kuranaga. "I keep my weight in the middle so that I can shift it quickly to my left leg for the next step."

4. ​Fifth, Fifth, Fifth

For the final passage of traveling pirouettes, try to finish each one in a clean fifth position (especially since you're in effacé, which exposes how far apart your feet are). "I always aim for a perfect fifth—otherwise it looks really sloppy," Kuranaga says. Use the spring up to and down from pointe to propel you forward.

5. ​Keep It Together

Between the accelerating music, the stage full of enthusiastic villagers and the lineup of matadors waving their capes, it's easy to succumb to an adrenaline rush. "You have so much energy, but you always have to hit the positions," says Kuranaga. "That's the key to not looking messy and out of control."

Walking may seem like the simplest moment you have on stage. But the way in which you take a step can reveal volumes about your character. In Pointe’s April/May issue, four dancers spoke with writer Joseph Carman about how they approach the walking and running in their signature roles. Here, Boston Ballet principal Erica Cornejo offers her take on Kitri’s steps.

 

ERICA CORNEJO

Boston Ballet

Role: Kitri in Don Quixote

Being Spanish, Kitri’s movement is sexy and spicy. When I walk or run, I feel the weight of my skirt. I also play with my shoulders and my hands, either placing them on my hips or grabbing the skirt, moving it from side to side. I run with the energy of my upper body, with my chest thrust forward—and with really fast feet!

 

In the second act dream scene as the vision of Dulcinea, I have to calm down. The walk is slower, soft—like a dreamy illusion. You also have to remember that Don Quixote is dreaming about Dulcinea, so she directs all of her gestures to him.

 

In the third act grand pas de deux, the walk is still soft, but with more life in it. Kitri’s very confident, passionate and in love. Yet she still has moments with her shoulders, flirting with Basilio, showing him she’s the sexy woman in control of everything.

 

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