Don Quixote
Bolshoi Ballet
Carolina Performing Arts
Memorial Hall
June 10-11

Carolina Performing Arts has achieved a dream so far beyond ordinary imagining that, even having experienced the reality, one can hardly believe it. The Bolshoi Ballet is performing in Memorial Hall! The fabled Russian company, source and defender of so much in classical ballet, launched its four-performance run with its revised version of Marius Petipa’s Don Quixote, the original of which it premiered in Moscow in 1869. The evening-long, three-act ballet is set to a beautiful score composed for the dance by Ludwig Minkus. Conducted by Pavel Sorokin from the Bolshoi, 60 members of the North Carolina Symphony filled the hall with the delightful music while, above them, on the stage, the dozens of dancers exhibited the grand and gorgeous dancing that has made the company’s name, which means “big” or “grand,” synonymous with greatness in this greatest of performing arts.

Although the company received mixed reviews from the first stop on its current three-city U.S. tour, everything about this production is marvelous. If it were danced on a bare stage in workout clothes, even by lesser dancers, it would be thrilling in its mix of bold charging action and rich detailed steps that are like embroidery over embroidery. But the dancers are some of the best on this planet, and it is not performed on a bare stage but in a fantastically realized world behind the proscenium arch. None of that stuff about breaking the fourth wall here: We have the exquisite pleasure of looking through to a parallel world which we cannot touch, only devour with our eyes. The elaborate sets, the richly colored costuming, the excellent lighting, and the full, smooth music all combine with the kinetic sculpturing of the dancers for a sublimely aesthetic experience.

Principal dancer Maria Alexandrova as Kitri intoxicated the audience with the beauty of her lines, her adroit precision, her lovely jumps, and the joyous sass of her characterization. She has you captivated from her entrance, but once you’ve seen her whip along a sharp diagonal in a long series of traveling fouettés, or bourée backward in and out of a slalom course of knives upright on the stage, or launch herself through the air, flying into the arms of Basilio, you’d do anything to see more. (The highest-priced tickets for this performance ran to $160, and after two minutes of this dancing, that seemed like the bargain of the century.) Basilio was danced on Thursday by the young firebrand Ivan Vasilev, who did things I had never seen and wouldn’t have thought physically possible. He is like a spectacular swallow, scissoring his legs through the long beats while he holds himself aloft before homing in on the precise spot to land on one knee before Kitri and then rise like a geyser and lift her overheadwith one hand. What makes ballet so wonderful is its ability to express psychological truth physically, undeterred by the ambiguity of words. Here was the truth of a young man in love, its incandescent beauty explanation enough for why humans ceaselessly repeat our search for its real-life manifestation.

Also particularly notable were the weightless Chinara Alizade, who danced one of Kitri’s friends, and in the second variation of the grand final dance; Anna Antropova as the preternaturally flexible gypsy dancer; and Ekaterina Shipulina, dancing the Queen of the Dryads who appear in Don Quixote’s second-act dream. Shipulina is extremely elegant, and it was immensely satisfying to see her (and two dozen others) in classical tights and tutus after the previous scene danced in long skirts. Shipulina will perform as Kitri on the 11th, and as Odette-Odile in Swan Lake on the 13th.

This review, originally published online, is published here by special arrangement with Classical Voice of North Carolina.