Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
At a rehearsal of the Children’s Ballet of San Antonio’s forthcoming production of Don Quixote de San Antonio, a dozen little girls, recent toddlers all, gently pattered across the stage in colorful skirts and cowgirl hats, fluttering around a tall, lithe Dulcinea twirling on toe tips. Don Quixote in full armor strode upon the stage, portraying with teenaged earnestness the errant old knight of Miguel de Cervantes’ 17th-century novel.
On stage, diminutive boys awaiting their dance stopped squirming and watched the action.
Adjustments were made to the traditional ballet to honor San Antonio’s history, and the performances are official Tricentennial events geared to children and families. Rather than fighting windmills in Spain, Don Quixote and sidekick Sancho Panza seek adventure in early 1800s Alamo Plaza. Other details reflect San Antonio’s culture, including a rendering of the Alamo as the set’s focal point.
“Instead of Spanish bullfighters, we have one gypsy toreador and cowboys who correlate to the rodeo,” said Vanessa Bessler, the company's founder and artistic director. “And it has a Fiesta feel, kind of like NIOSA [Night in Old San Antonio, the San Antonio Conservation Society’s popular Fiesta event]. All the costumes have Spanish and Tex-Mex style and colors, and there will even be live mariachis on stage.”
The appropriately gangly Chris Miller will perform the role of Don Quixote, Paul Bessler will bring to life Sancho Panza, and the role of Dulcinea alternates in the three performances among Bailey Stepan, Valeria Restrepo, and Jolie Gomez.
These dancers and others ranging from 3 years old to 19 comprise a cast of 150 who will perform Don Quixote de San Antonio on Friday and Saturday at the Majestic Theatre, 224 E. Houston St. The Friday performance will be at 7 p.m., with two shows on Saturday, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tickets are available at the Majestic box office or through www.ticketmaster.com.
Don Quixote de San Antonio is the company’s sixth production, and its first staged at the Majestic. The theater’s Spanish balconies, white peacocks, and other adornments seem an extension of the red tile-roofed, adobe building sets on stage.
Bessler founded the Children’s Ballet in June 2015 as a nonprofit organization to create more opportunities for young dancers to perform. A former principal dancer with the National Ballet of Panama, Bessler was honored as the Outstanding Teacher at the 2018 Youth America Grand Prix Regionals for the third year in a row and is a Bolshoi Ballet certified teacher.
While Bessler trains private students, the Children’s Ballet of San Antonio holds open auditions, drawing from 27 local studios as well as involving young musicians, acrobats, and other performance artists. It claims to be the only dance company in Texas that offers lead roles to dancers as young as 8.
Youngsters selected for productions benefit from working with two professional ballet masters, Amy Fote and Natalia Bashkatova. Fote is a former ballet master of Ballet San Antonio who is now on the artistic staff of the Houston Ballet as well as being its former prima ballerina. Bashkatova was a principal dancer with the Bolshoi Theater Grigorovich Ballet and later a guest principal dancer with the New York City Ballet. Throughout rehearsals, they coach the young dancers in their roles.
As important as developing great dancers is to Bessler, she also stresses developing leadership and teamwork skills through dance.
“Our mission is to inspire the pursuit of excellence and individual responsibility – skills for life,” she said. Many of the current company members have won regional and national honors and scholarships, and continue studying dance in college. The company also includes several special-needs children.
Outside the stage door after rehearsal Tuesday, 5-year-old Addison Cooper, still wearing a leotard and lipstick, leapt at her father with a hug. A Rivard Report reporter squatted down to the sidewalk and asked her if she planned to continue dancing until she became a prima ballerina like Dulcinea.
In response, Addison giggled and nuzzled into her father’s shoulder.
“It’s been quite a treat,” her father, Christopher Cooper, said. “It’s been a good lesson for her that when she signs up for something, she’s going to see it through all the way.
“She signed her own contract,” he added, “and drew a heart.”