The Royal Ballet's Marianela Nunez as Kitri and Christopher Saunders as the titular Don Quixote in Carlos Acosta's new vision for the classic story ballet (photo courtesy of The Royal Ballet).

June 18, 2015 - For the first time in almost 40 years, The Royal Ballet returns to Chicago with a stunning performance of Carlos Acosta’s Don Quixote.

Chicago’s Sinfonietta, directed by The Royal’s, Martin Yates, ushers in the first notes of the familiar Ludwig Minkus score. From the opening prologue, the stage actors and dancers excite audiences with their widely known penchant for the dramatic and the whimsical. The set, by Tony Award-winning designer Tim Hatley, seems muted at first but gets richer as the ballet progresses, with the crowning design adorning the Dance of the Dryads, showing psychedelic, oversized purple flowers hanging high above the twenty-four person corps de ballet.

Marianela Nuñez, dancing the role of Kitri Thursday night makes her entrance; her dazzling stage presence is matched only by her Basilio, danced in a historic last-ever performance of this role by Carlos Acosta, himself. Both principals exude flair with sassy flicks of the head, sly smiles at the audience, and an openness and warmth so human, the audience almost forgets that these are two of the most superhuman dancers in the world. Acosta is an absolute joy to watch as he executes multiple pirouettes, one handed lifts of his partner, and complex jumps. His performance is only threatened by Nuñez, who steals the stage with natural presence every time she graces it. The final pas de deux suite places audience firmly on the glorious edge of their ballet seats.

Spanish dancer Itziar Mendizabal heats things up a bit with a provocative rendition of the lead Gypsy in act two. Ryoichi Hirano provides a beautiful highpoint in the third act with his long lines and towering height as the Famous Matador (highlighted by an immense setting in the pub scene, complete with five over-sized chandeliers). For a moment of classical tradition, the Scene of the Dryads shows precise lines and an impressively clean corps de ballet.

American dancer Meaghan Grace Hinkis as Amour, Melissa Hamilton as The Queen of the Dryads, and Christina Arestis as Dulcinea dance almost perfect classical renditions of their respective variations, providing a sobering reminder that The Royal Ballet is so much more than fun and flirtation.

Acosta’s choreography and theatrical direction take on a completely modern feel as dancers flirt and fight, walk in a pedestrian manner, and tell the story of their characters. A contemporary Gypsy scene complete with dancers rolling on the floor, straying far from the classical ballet vernacular tops off Acosta’s Cuban-influenced style.

Acosta succeeds in his contemporary vision for this timeless classic, creating a masterpiece of bold and spicy choices. The Royal Ballet ensemble exudes a warm presence, comedic timing, and of course, world class dancing, inviting enough that the company could dance for hours more and the grateful Auditoritum Theatre audience would simply beg to come right along.

The Royal Ballet Makes Triumphant Return to The Auditorium After a 40-Year Absence

DANCE REVIEW: By Jordan Reinwald