Salt Creek Ballet performs 'Don Quixote'

Students and guest artists present story of knight's quest to find his ideal partner

Erica De La O, artistic director of Salt Creek Ballet, wants to do more than create learning experiences for her students. She wants to create wonderful performances for the community.

So, for the third year in a row, the troupe's spring performance will be of a full-length ballet, "Don Quixote."

"I immediately recognized - although the triple bills of three individual dances or excerpts were entertaining - they didn't really serve the community because there is a story missing," sad De La O, who joined the company in the 2021-22 season. So the ballet performed "Swan Lake" two years ago and "Alice in Wonderland" last year.

The ballets are trimmed down from their original length. "Don Quixote," for example, has three hours of music, of which dancers will perform to about an hour and 10 minutes.

"We get better every year at finding ways to really make it family friendly and keep the integrity of the storyline and the iconic dancing," she said.

Among the show's highlights are performances by dancers from Cuba in the principal roles of Kitri and Basilio.

"We bring in international guest artists to really elevate the performance, and then our dancers do the meat of the dancing in terms of the roles," De La O said.

Among the Salt Creek contingent are three Hinsdale residents, including 13-year-old Caroline Hurley, who has been with the company since she was 3.

"Whenever we were watching 'Little Einsteins,' the music would play and I was always dancing to it," Caroline said. "My mom thought maybe I would be a dancer and she put me in ballet."

The Hinsdale Middle School eighth-grader has danced in 15 to 20 shows with Salt Creek and is looking forward to performing in "Don Quixote."

"I find it really fun and connecting," she said. "It's like a whole community through each act. All three pieces are just so beautiful and specific and the costumes also go with each character, which is really fun and you get to be with your friends and dance together like a little village."

Caroline was familiar with the ballet from performing in a dream scene for one of the company's recitals, but she didn't know much of the story of the famous knight.

"My dad knew about it so he kind of told me about it," she said.

Lily Bier, 14, also an eighth-grader at Hinsdale Middle School, has been dancing with Salt Creek Ballet since first grade. Like Hurley, she has been in too many shows to count.

"My favorite overall performance that we've ever done was 'Alice in Wonderland,' " Lily said. "It was so much fun."

She is enjoying "Don Quixote" as well.

"I really do like it. It's creative and there's a lot of theater in it," she said.

Lily's favorite number is a character danced called "Seguidilla," which the students learned from Vera Zhukova.

"She's amazing," Lily said. "She teaches us how to act and move our bodies and character is a big part of ballet."

Emma Botha, 11, a sixth-grader at Clarendon Hills Middle School, started dancing with Salt Creek when she was 4. She said rehearsals can be exhausting but often

are invigorating.

"Sometimes I'm just glad to be at rehearsal and I want to say there longer," Emma said.

The girls said they enjoy working with guests artists.

"They inspire me a lot," Emma said.

De La O said her students benefit from watching the guest artists do everything from warm up to deal with costume issues to perform.

"Kids notice every detail. That's what they do. We always try to choose guest artists who are going to be an example to them, that we now are going to guide them well," she said.

And the students respond.

"They step up to become professionals as well," she remarked.

De La O assured families that "Don Quixote," on stage March 22 and 23 at the McAninch Arts Center in Glen Ellyn (see Page 26 for details), will entertain audience members

of all ages.

"It is one of the most iconic ballets in the ballet repertoire," she said. "It's on the same level as 'Swan Lake' or 'Giselle' or 'Nutcracker.' This ballet is notorious for just good dancing and good music. It is full of fans and tambourines and snapping fingers and jumping and feel good dancing.

"It really is a vibrant ballet and I'm excited to share it with the community because I want them to know 'Don Quixote,' " she added.

A special "Fiesta de la Familia" will take place after the 1 p.m. show Saturday, giving children a chance to come on stage, meet the dancers and learn a short fan dance.

"We want families to feel comfortable taking their children, and we want children to feel comfortable going to the theater and know it's for them," De La O said.

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean