History

The hero of Cervantes’ novel has been the subject of  many ballets. but most surviving productions are based on Petipa’s. This has a complex history; Petipa’s first version was a four-act comedy ballet, with music by Minkus and design by Isakov, Shenian, and Shagin. Don Quixote premiered at Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre on December 26, 1869 with Sobeshanskaya, Sokolov, and Geltser. His second version was extended to five acts using the same music and designs, but with many choreographic revisions, including the addition of numerous classical ensembles. This version was premiered on November 21, 1871 in St. Petersburg.

Its plot centers on the love affair between Kitri and Basillo (described in the second volume of the novel), and their attempts to escape Kitri’s arranged marriage to Gamache. Don Quixote and his servant Sancho Panza are almost incidental characters whose adventures link the plot together, for example the famous tilting windmills scene and the Don’s dream of his ideal woman, Dulcinea, which provides the ballet with its lyrical vision scene.

In 1900 Gorsky mounted a drastically revised production for Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater, retaining some of Petipa’s choreography but controversially introducing much more comic realism in the mime and characterization. This version was also shown in St. Petersburg in 1902, and remained in the repertoire of both the Bolshoi and Kirov companies forming the basis of subsequent productions. It was also the basis for the first complete production of the ballet in the West staged by Witold Borkowski for Ballet Rambert (London, 1962). Other subsequent productions based on the Petipa/Gorsky version have been Nureyev’s for Vienna State Opera Ballet (Vienna, 1966, revived for Australian Ballet, 1970) and Baryshnikov’s for American Ballet Theatre (Washington, 1978, revived for Royal Ballet, 1993).

One of the most robust and varied of the the extant classics, Don Quixote‘s mixture of Spanish dance, pure classicism, and comic farce has sustained its popular appeal. Several early ballets were choreographed on the subject of Cervantes’ hero including Hilverding (Vienna, 1740), Noverre (Vienna, 1768), Didelot (St. Petersburg, 1808), and Bournonville (Copenhagen, 1837). Twentieth-century versions of the same story include those of de Valois, Lifar, and Balanchine. Set to music by Nabokov, Balanchine’s version was created in homage to its original Dulcinea, Suzanne Farrell.

Synopsis

Prologue:
Driven by the vision of Dulcinea, the tarnished, yet inspired Don Quixote begins his adventures with his trusty squire Sancho Panza in tow.

Act I:
Sevilla. Kitri, Lorenzo’s daughter, is in love with Basilio. Much to her chagrin, she learns of her father’s plans to marry her to Gamache, a nobleman. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza enter the village, causing great commotion. Noticing Kitri, Don Quixote wonders if he has, at last, found his Dulcinea, At the height of merriment, Kitri and Basilio, aided by their friends, Espada and Mercedes, sneak off followed by Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Gamache and Lorenzo attempt to pursue the young couple.

Act II, Scene 1:
Gypsy Camp. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza discover the fleeing couple in a friendly gypsy camp. All are inspired by the romance of the night. As the vision of Dulcinea appears to him, Don Quixote realizes that Kitri is not his “ideal,” but indeed belongs with Basilio. Suddenly the wind gains momentum. Don Quixote foolishly attacks a windmill, believing it to be a giant threatening Dulcinea’s safety. Failing miserably, he collapses into a deep sleep.

Act II, Scene 2:
The Dream. Don Quixote has an enchanted dream of beautiful maidens in the image of Kitri symbolizes his Dulcinea.

Act II, Scene 3:
Sunrise. Lorenzo and Gamache interrupt Don Quixote’s dream. Sympathetic to the plight of the young lovers, Don Quixote attempts to lead Lorenzo and Gamache astray.

Act II, Scene 4:
A Tavern. Finally discovered, Kitri is forced by Lorenzo to accept the attentions of Gamache. The thwarted Basilio commits “suicide.” Upon learning of the farce, Kitri implores Don Quixote to persuade Lorenzo to wed her to the “corpse.” Instantly, Basilio comes to “life”! Triumphantly, Kitri leaves to prepare for marriage while Don Quixote and Basilio salute Lorenzo and Gamache for stoically accepting the inevitable.

Act III:
The wedding. The village celebrates the marriage. Don Quixote congratulates the couple, bids them a warm farewell, and resumes his everlasting adventures.

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