Nureyev's 'Don Quixote' has verve and imagination, but . . .

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From Cervantes to Hemingway, Spain has been a source of myth-making. Many choreographers, especially in the 19th century, have contributed to the Spanish myth as well.

Chief among them is Petipa, who depicted Spain as a sunny plaza where hot-blooded people could work off their energy by dancing all day and into the night. He went so far as to transform Cervantes's brooding ''Don Quixote'' into a lusty farce, in which the Don plays second fiddle to the comic romantic intrigues of Basilio, a barber, and Kitri, his high-spirited girlfriend.

Petipa's ''Don Quixote'' has remained a mainstay of the Russian repertory and has itself gone through many transformations. The latest adaptation is by Rudolf Nureyev, whose production is being performed by the Boston Ballet at the Uris Theater through next Thursday. Besides being responsible for choreography and staging, Nureyev dances Basilio at every performance, while several women of the Boston Ballet alternate as Kitri.

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Whatever the nature of ''Don Quixote's'' zillion or so versions, it finds its rationale in two ways. First, it must brim with energy. Second, Basilio and Kitri must be supreme classical dancers, and all the secondary classical dancing roles that Petipa carefully worked into the libretto must be filled out, too. These secondary parts are characteristically called ''friends'' of the heroine, but the anonymity of their names does not demean the importance of their function. They help to make ''Don Quixote'' and other Russian-based ballets fully rounded dance experiences.

Nureyev's ''Don Quixote'' means to teem with life. This intention comes across especially clearly in the many swirling group dances he devised, and also in the room for byplay among the characters on the sidelines his staging allows. Generally, though, the ballet never takes off. The Boston Ballet has been touring ''Don Quixote'' around the country and has been dancing nothing but ''Don Quixote.'' It's entirely possible that the company has had quite enough of it.

That Nureyev can still bring verve and dramatic presence to the stage is a measure of his astonishing professionalism, but neither is ''Don Quixote'' a one-man show nor at this point can Nureyev convince the audience that dancing is a pleasurable activity. He no longer seems capable of virtuoso performance.

The Kitri I saw, Laura Young, is capable but not distinguished enough for the likes of this high-tech dancing. She is petite, so her overdecorated costumes make her appear squat. Several of the secondary ballerina parts were danced with richer musicality and other signs of sensitivity. Yet there's no getting around the fact that ''Don Quixote'' is a first-rate ballet that receives a second-rate performance by the Boston Ballet.

The most interesting aspect of the enterprise is that Nureyev made it all possible. His name counts today as much as when his dancing was at its height.

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