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'Don Quixote' ballet well-done

Surrounded by mourners, Don Quixote stirs restlessly in his deathbed. A crash of excitement awakens him and sends him into bewildered action as his longtime servant, Sancho Panza, scurries into the room with a stolen chicken, pursued by a mob of angry villagers.

The raucous scene opened Neglia Ballet Artists' production of "Don Quixote" Saturday night in the University at Buffalo Center for the Arts. What followed was a warm and fun-filled evening of comedy and joyous dancing.

Choreographed by artistic director Sergio Neglia, "Don Quixote" followed the exploits of the eccentric Man of La Mancha as he set off on a chivalrous adventure in search of his beloved Dulcinea, an idealized fantasy of his perfect woman.

When Don Quixote, played by Jason Bravo, and Sancho Panza, by David Butler, come upon a village of gypsies in the ballet's first act, the story begins to take shape, as does Neglia's light-hearted and engaging choreography.

A corps of 10 female dancers in swoosh skirts flap hand-held fans in a lively Spanish dance. The scene is full of life. Enter Neglia as the scalawag village barber Basilio, guitar in hand and bent on charming the assembled ladies, including the innkeeper's scamp of a daughter, Kitri, portrayed magnificently by NBA principal dancer Sherri Campagni.

Neglia and Campagni's onstage chemistry was captivating. The pair exuded classical style and grace.

Hilarity continued with the arrival of Gamache (Angel Diaz), a prissy aristocrat waving a pink scarf. Gamache has an interest in marrying Kitri. Kitri's father, Lorenzo, danced by Patrick Rocheleau, tries to unite the pair to no avail, as Kitri taunts and teases Gamache in one of the act's more humorous sections. Sleights of hand, misdirection and a full-out tantrum add to the lovable cast of characters' antics, culminating in a Keystone Kop-like chase scene at the end of the act as Basilio and Kitri run off to be together.

The ballet's second act opened on a gypsy camp, near a tattered windmill on the outskirts of the village. A brawl between two knife-wielding gypsy women ensued. Set to a lively segment of composer Leon Minkus' score for the ballet, guest dancers Beth Elkins and Keri Ring tussled with one another in a rage that ended in a double stabbing. Elkins was convincing in the role, sneering and pawing at Ring.

In perhaps the most poignant scene of the ballet, Quixote and Panza arrived at the encampment to witness a children's play re-enacting what appears to have transpired previously in the village. Befuddled and confused as to what is real and imagined, Quixote lashes out, destroying the play's makeshift stage before launching into a dreamlike battle with a dragon.

Characterized by highly expressive choreography, performed with vibrancy and energy by a cast of talented performers, NBA's "Don Quixote" proved a well-crafted and entertaining production.

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