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The Inquisition of Don Miguel

Dylan Brown - From left, Halliet Slack, Eduard Forehand and Holly Curran will be performing in the ‘The Inquisition of Don Miguel,’ which is primarily choreographed by Sallyann Mulcahy.

Ballet Montana debuts an original story ballet, “The Inquisition of Don Miguel,” choreographed by artistic director Sallyann Mulcahy, 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 27, at the Myrna Loy Center.

Written by Michael Russell, development director for Ballet Montana, the ballet is also a collaboration with Helena artist Tim Holmes, who is designing the set.

The performance also includes “Cuarteto Romantico,” a collection of six contemporary ballets choreographed to the passionate music of the romance languages. The production runs for three nights only, through July 29.

“The Inquisition of Don Miguel” explores the story of what befell Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes and his famous eternally idealistic knight Don Quixote.

Cervantes, a soldier who who was captured by Algerians in 1575 and enslaved for five years, had grown cynical of knight errantry, according to Russell. Thus, he created his famous befuddled knight who battles windmills, believing them to be giants.

Time after time Cervantes leaves his hero literally in the dirt. Despite his many ignoble defeats, Don Quixote rises from the dust and 400 years later endures as one of literature’s most famous and inspiring heroes.

As the ballet’s title suggests, the Spanish Inquisition is an important part of the story, said Russell. But in this production, humanity, as represented by the audience, is the silent Inquisitor.

The “Inquisition of Don Miguel” focuses more on the author Cervantes than on Don Quixote, said Mulcahy. “As a choreographer, I am bringing this story to life, through Michael’s sketch of it. He has them on paper; I get to open every page Michael’s written and take the characters off the page and make them three-dimensional with character and color.”

She’s choreographed the ballet to a tone poem, “Don Quixote,” composed by Richard Strauss 114 years ago.

“It’s an unbelievable score, the textures, the layers, the instrumentation, the arrangement of the instruments,” she said. “It’s just gorgeous. It’s so filled with compassion and empathy and love and defeat ... and terror. There’s some great scary music in there, too. There’s music provided for viciousness, as well as unrequited love.

“It’s gorgeous,” she said of the ballet. “There’s everything an audience needs and yearns for — there’s frolic and fun and tragedy and romance and all kinds of characters. You really do get to open a book and have all the characters walk out.”

And designing “the book” is Tim Holmes, who is painting the set, which includes six 16-by-10-foot cloth panels that will later be auctioned off as a fundraiser for Ballet Montana.

“This is such a terrific project,” Holmes said. “It’s really a gift to receive this kind of challenge ... It’s crammed full of creative energy. That’s my subject matter.”

It’s about the source of human evolution, he said, “This energy at the core of the human spirit. … My task is to bring the audience in and have everyone feel that surge of energy.”

Don Quixote’s story “may be his (Cervantes’) own story,” said Mulcahy. “He got hit so many times he made a parody of it – a comedy of errors … through it all is an undercurrent of the grief of Cervantes.”

Dancing the parts of Don Quixote and his caretaker niece are husband-and-wife dancers Eddie and Christy Forehand, who have both danced with the Ballet Montana Company the past four years. Montana’s only professional ballet company, Ballet Montana was founded by Mulcahy, a former ballerina with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.

Eddie portrays an aging Don Quixote. Although only in his 50s, Don Quixote’s physical and mental condition are equivalent to someone in their 80s today.

“He has a mild case of dementia,” said Eddie. “He’s in and out of dreams. He’s very superstitious and always feeling foiled.”

Among his foils is his niece, danced by Christy. She is both concerned about Don Quixote’s health but also concerned with preserving his estate, which she will inherit at his death.

The mood of the ballet “radically changes from comic to tragedy,” said Eddie. “Every character portrays a different feeling.”

“This particular ‘Don Quixote’ has never been danced,” he added.

They’re excited for both the ballet’s debut and to be back in Helena dancing.

“We love being here,” said Christy. “We love working with Sallyann. People supporting us brings us back.”

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