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A Competent Quixote

Don Quixote Choreographed by Rudolf Nureyev, after Marius Petipa At the Metropolitan Center Through March 21

By Deborah K. Holmes

WITH ALL THE SUBTLETY of drivers who slow their cars and gape at roadside accidents, critics write about the aging of Rudolf Nureyev. Like particularly patient vultures, they have circled for years, nothing and describing every sloppy move, every step not letter-perfect, every effort less than wrenching. It is true: Nureyev looks worse today than he did ten years ago, or even five years ago.

But he need not retire just yet. His charisma, his style, his sex appeal are still irresistible; he is still very much the enfant terrible of dance. And since his strong suit, even in his heyday, was never technical perfection--his particular brand of excellence has always involved character over precision--he remains a dancer to be seen and remembered and discussed.

This week Nureyev is performing nightly with the Boston Ballet in his own production of Don Quixote. Although watching him is still a thrill, his technical shortcomings are especially conspicuous in the role of Basilio. This romantic lead requires a more blithe, more innocently carefree personality than comes naturally to Rudolf Nureyev the world-wise and world-weary. Nureyev's cockiness and arrogance overpower principal dancer Marie-Christine Mouis (who alternates the role of Kitri-Dulcinea with Laura Young): in his arms, she seems nervous, skittish, more than a trifle unsure of her suitor's affections.

The romantic couple's incompatibility appears to be more his fault than hers. Mouis is a fine, precise dancer with exquisite balance and an engaging flair for comedic flirtation. Her Kitri-Dulcinea is a model of girlish exuberance and mischief, quick in her pirouettes and unquiveringly exact in her arabesques.

Nureyev, by contrast, is characteristically imprecise and daring; he has wild flair, but his style is messy. His balance fails him at crucial instants, his turns leave him looking slightly dizzy, and--worst of all--he seems oddly disinterested in Mouis, as if he'd rather be off somewhere making his next conquest. His finest moments occur in the last act, when Basilio and Kitri-Dulcinea each perform-three dramatic, whirling solos.

As Queen of the Dryads in the Act II dream sequence, Laura Young (who alternates the role with Mouis) has a lovely, lyrical style and a great deal of fluid grace. Stephanie Moy, as the dream sprite Amour, delivers a quick, pert performance characterized by rapid-fire precision. The two male principals, Matador Augustus Van-Heerden and Gypsy Boy Tony Catanzero, both exhibit crystalline definition and punctilious accuracy. As Don Quixote, Donn Edwards is appropriately clumsy, bumblingly gallant, dedicated to the service of his imagined Dulcinea.

FIRST STAGED in 1970 with the Australian Ballet, Nureyev's production is unexceptional but pleasing. Hardly stylistically daring, it contains the usual number of street scenes with crowd entertainment, pas de deux, dream sequences, and principal solos. The only departure from traditional ballet is the augmented role of the male lead. Nureyev has complained repeatedly that classical roles afford male principals too small a role, and his Don Quixote represents and attempt to make Basilio more than what critic John Lombard calls "a forklift for ballerinas."

The technical aspects of the production also are traditionally appealing, with one major exception: Kitri-Dulcinea's and Basilio's matching flesh-colored tutu and tights. Perhaps the implications of youthful physicality would have been lost if the lovers had worn blue or green or burgundy, but certainly Nureyev and Mouis would have looked a lot better. No great matter--through: the red-and-black costumes worn by the matadors and their women in Acts I and III, and the gaudy, raggle--taggle gypsy outfits of Act II, are stylish and sportive.

Nureyev's Don Quixote provides a satisfying evening of dance. The Boston Ballet should feel no qualms about backing a star with so lustrous a reputation; the company acquits itself honorably, and some members are outstanding. As for Nureyev--true, he turns 43 this week; true, he doesn't leap so high as he used to; and true, his performance is not a model of precision. But for arrogant sexiness, for self-confident cockiness, for unmistakable style, for sheer class, he's got it all. Rudolf Nureyev may be an old dog, but the needs no new tricks.

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