Rudolf Nureyev’s farcical “Don Quixote” (1966) may be largely a confection, but within its layers are pristine nuggets, spun into filigreed gold Thursday night by the dynamite dancing of Boston Ballet’s Misa Kuranaga and Jeffrey Cirio in the lead roles of Kitri/Dulcinea and Basilio.
Boston Ballet has a long history with Nureyev’s staging of the tale of the windmill-tilting Don and his paunchy sidekick, Sancho Panza, as they go in search of an impossible dream. The company first danced his version — which sprang from the 1869 Marius Petipa ballet — in 1982, with Nureyev himself cast as Basilio, a poor barber, in love with Kitri, an innkeeper’s daughter whose father has betrothed her to the foppish nobleman Gamache. The dance is an immense departure from the 17th-century novel by Miguel de Cervantes that inspired it: Quixote/Panza serve merely as context for the love-conquers-all theme that drives the action.
Yet taken on its own terms, this “Don Quixote” — staged by Maina Gielgud, former artistic director of the Australian Ballet, which performed the ballet in the ’70s — will make you laugh with delight, and even tear at your heart, when Carlos Molina, as Quixote, stares vacantly into the middle distance in search of his imagined soulmate, Dulcinea. (Though be warned: Your eyes may glaze over at some of the large group numbers in the nearly three-hour production).
Cirio as Basilio fairly glows. He rivets you. He’s at once crisp and full of musicality, lending artful phrasing to everything from a soaring pas de chat to a spin on a dime. It’s not easy to embody the flex-footed quirks, turned-in-and-out knees, and ambidextrous turns that Nureyev so excelled at, but Cirio pulls it off, topping each phrase with a boyish charm. His timing is impeccable, whether it’s in the service of comedy — faking his own death with a knife to the armpit, then interrupting his final slumber with kisses to Kitri’s cheek — or springing skyward in rapid beats. He’s not on the music — by Ludwig Minkus and arranged by John Lanchbery — but precedes it. He lights its points and counterpoints.
Kuranaga as Kitri swings between flirtation and petulance — and ultimately lands on grace. For example, her outstretched leg melts into a passe smooth as butter before she hooks, swanlike, on Cirio’s hip. In the grand pas de deux in Act III, her fouettes drill deep into the ground, her focus and balance never wavering. You’d swear she could do them in her sleep.
Other standouts include Kathleen Breen Combes as Mercedes, the Street Dancer. She’s sensuous and teasing, haughty and vulnerable all at once. Her off-kilter spins send you swooning. Yury Yanowsky as her partner, Espada, begins, in Act I, a bit thickly, but comes into his own by Act III, as he whip-turns and stomps.
Not as successful are Paulo Arrais as the sword-shy buffoon Gamache. With his pompous white wig and hanky to avoid germs (he kneels upon it as he asks Kitri for he hand), he’s a bit over the top, as is Robert Kretz as Sancho Panza. This is not entirely Kretz’s fault: he appears to have been directed toward slapstick, whether tumbling to the ground or swinging a rubber chicken or lobster overhead.
Nicholas Georgiadis’s lush sets rub browns and oranges against golds to create a musty, misty landscape for the goings-ons. The corps, on the whole, performs admirably, whether as Seguidilla Girls, Fishermen, Matadors, or Gypsies. You’re just left to wonder why Nureyev felt compelled to keep so many of them onstage for so much time.
Thea Singer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.