Behind the Scenes of Don Quixote, the $3 Million Ballet

Pacific Northwest Ballets presents the U.S. premiere of this updated classic.

By Laura Dannen February 2, 2012

Photo: Courtesy Dutch National Ballet.

What’s your story? Choreographer Alexei Ratmansky chants this like a mantra, asking it of each dancer during a recent Pacific Northwest Ballet rehearsal for Don Quixote. In this case, principal Seth Orza is being coached on the story he’s telling with his oversized red cape—a surprisingly unwieldy prop he bears in the role of Espada, a self-satisfied toreador. He whirls it up and over his head, once, twice, three times.

“And up! And up!” Ratmansky urges. Orza looks like he’s going through a CrossFit workout. “Use more of a swing, see how it flies… You should look like you’ve been doing this your whole life!Clap, clap, clap, clap. Ratmansky signals Orza to stop, and the dancer doubles over, panting.

“I just whipped myself,” Orza says, laughing. They’ve been doing cape work for about 20 minutes, and though spirits are still high, this speaks to the ambition of Ratmansky, the former artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet and the man behind this $3 million update of the classical Petipa and Gorsky ballet (originally created for the Dutch National Ballet). The devil’s in the details—a story to be told with every whirl of the cape and flutter of the fan.

So when PNB presents the U.S. premiere of Don Quixote this weekend, the attention isn’t solely on actor Tom Skerritt, who’ll play the tragicomic hero, or the five different principal couples, or the lavish sets and costumes by Jérôme Kaplan. It’s a package deal. This is one of the most opulent productions in PNB’s history, with 46 company members and 24 PNBS students performing, 280 costumes, 46 wigs and hairpieces, one smiling moon—and one very discerning choreographer who’s breathing new life into the classics.

Don Quixote
Feb 3–12, Pacific Northwest Ballet, McCaw Hall

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