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Love lifts Boston Ballet's fluffy but fun 'Don Quixote'

Boston Ballet opened its 43d season Thursday night with the production that put the company on the international map nearly a quarter century ago, Rudolf Nureyev's version of "Don Quixote." This current incarnation shows the ballet has aged well. Nureyev originally choreographed it in 1966, based on the famed Petipa version, and set it on Boston Ballet in 1982, casting himself in the starring role of Basilio. Admittedly, it's a bit fluffy and not particularly cohesive, but it may well be the best of the "Don Quixotes" out there. It's sweet, fun , and jam-packed with dancing.

Nureyev eschews the dark, poignant undercurrents of the knight-errant's misadventures to focus more on the story of two lovers, Basilio and Kitri, given committed performances Thursday night by Yury Yanowsky and the exquisite Lorna Feijoo. Their determination to be together despite her father's attempts to marry her off fuel the ballet's action far more than the old man's tilting at windmills.

It's a busy production, full of crowd scenes enlivened by big ensemble pieces and spirited character dances. The first and third acts have a pseudo-Spanish flair, with flourishing fans, swirling capes, castanets, and nontraditional footwork that tilts flexed feet side to side. The technical facility of the corps looks good -- one hopes the occasional ensemble sloppiness will clear up after opening night.

The ballet offers an excellent showcase for solos and small groups. Melissa Hough was outstanding as a street dancer. A sultry siren enchanting the matadors in the town square, she danced with flair and impeccable precision through various configurations of swords sticking out of the stage.

However, the two lovers have the most impressive and substantive choreography. Feijoo and Yanowsky, who danced the same roles in Boston Ballet's 2003 revival, are at their most convincing in the scenes of playful flirtation and affectionate sparring. Basilio's fake death has some terrific comic touches. But the real workout comes in the famous grand pas de deux, often performed as a stand-alone piece, and in this they were dynamite. Yanowsky, who looked a little stiff at the ballet's start, loosened up and displayed all the verve and pizzazz the character begged for, with crisp footwork and buoyant leaps. He nailed the fiendish alternating mid air turns that Nureyev choreographed for himself.

With her charismatic charm, technical clarity, and expressive arms, Feijoo embodied Kitri with sparkle and flash, dancing with rhythmic verve and linear precision. Her legs sliced through the notorious fouette combination like a machete. Pavel Gurevich was a more virile, elegant Don Quixote than is usually portrayed, Raul Salamanca was a nimble Sancho Panza, and Viktor Plotnikov brought convincing comic physicality to the role of Lorenzo.

Nicholas Georgiadis' s sets tended toward flat and drab, but the costumes were vibrantly colorful. The orchestra, under Jonathan McPhee, gave a commanding performance of Ludwig Minkus's lively, if largely unmemorable, score.

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