In “Don Quixote” role, Atlanta Ballet dancer fulfills his quest

Like Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote, whose visions (or delusions) spur him toward knightly quests, Sergio Masero-Olarte has pursued a dream to become a world-class dancer. It sent him on a serendipitous journey, bringing growth and discovery, but also disappointments, misunderstandings and lost opportunities.

An accomplished technician with an athletic build, the 23-year-old native of Madrid, Spain, has a cheerful demeanor, but his gaze intensifies as the conversation grows serious.

“I’m the guy who almost got something, but didn’t,” he said.

Since he was a boy, Masero-Olarte has loved “Don Quixote.” It’s the best-known of ballets that draw from his own Spanish culture. Though not the first ballet inspired by Cervantes’ novel, Marius Petipa’s 1869 production has become a definitive classic. The Atlanta Ballet performs Yuri Possokhov’s version beginning Feb. 2 for two weekends at Cobb Energy Centre.

Possokhov’s version respects Petipa’s form while streamlining the story of Basilio, the barber, and his beloved Kitri, who is unhappily betrothed to a wealthy man. Once Don Quixote enters the scene, the story of star-crossed lovers takes a comical turn, and romantic love triumphs.

Don Quixote embodies aspects of the Spanish personality, Masero-Olarte said. “They’re passionate people. Even though we know what reality is, it doesn’t hurt to imagine all the incredible things that you may want,” he said. “That makes you reach farther.”

Masero-Olarte’s passion for dance started at age 5 when his mother put him in ballet classes to strengthen his arches and prevent problems associated with flat feet. Relishing the challenge, he enjoyed ballet as much as he loved to play soccer.

At about age 9, his first year at Madrid’s Real Conservatorio Profesional de Danza Mariemma, Masero-Olarte acquired a video-recording of Mikhail Baryshnikov as Basilio in American Ballet Theatre’s “Don Quixote.” Masero-Olarte watched it over and over, deciding he wanted to dance the role one day. He realized that to dance like Baryshnikov required him to give up soccer and other things he loved.

His goal came into sight at age 16, when Masero-Olarte received a full ride scholarship to study in the School of American Ballet’s summer program. The school then offered him a tuition scholarship for the elite Winter Term — potentially opening doors to a job with a top-tier ballet company. But Masero-Olarte’s family couldn’t afford student housing costs.

He almost got something, but didn’t.

A year later, Masero-Olarte received a scholarship to study at the San Francisco Ballet School. He admired then-principal dancer Gennadi Nedvigin, now artistic director for the Atlanta Ballet, and Masero-Olarte set his sights on getting into San Francisco Ballet. He was told he’d move up to the school’s Trainee Program his second year — a necessary bridge between school and company. But he was bumped by winners of the Prix de Lausanne ballet competition, who got first dibs.

Almost got something, but didn’t.

Masero-Olarte eventually joined Ballet Memphis, where he spent three years dancing, teaching and choreographing. He wanted to dance more classical repertoire, and when he learned of Nedvigin’s move to Atlanta Ballet, with a turn toward classicism, Masero-Olarte auditioned.

Last October, Nedvigin invited Masero-Olarte to learn the role of Basilio, with the understanding that he’d have to prove that he could perform it. 

“He’s a very dynamic dancer. Good-looking guy. He’s very likable and sincere,” said Ogulcan Borova, who staged “Don Quixote” on Atlanta Ballet dancers and coached Masero-Olarte. 

“Everyone these days can go out there and do amazing jumps and turns,” said Borova. “It takes more than technique to develop star quality.”

For all the ballet’s dazzling lifts and athletic leaps, Masero-Olarte is learning that the acting carries the show.

It’s especially difficult during his solo variation near the ballet’s end. Complicated aerial turns — repeated three or more times — and extended pirouette sequences, test his stamina. He can’t pause to catch his breath because he has to stay in character. Then there’s the character’s arc, and expression through a centuries-old pantomime language that has to look natural and spontaneous.

Casting isn’t generally confirmed at Atlanta Ballet until 12 days before a production opens, Masero-Olarte said, but apparently he has met the challenges and will dance his dream role during the production run. He’s looking forward to sharing his enthusiasm with the audience, and hopes they’ll come away wanting more.

Now, he’s the guy who almost got something, then did.


Big arts events in 2018

New books MLK assassination

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Go Guide

Concert review: Smashing Pumpkins treat longtime fans to a dose of pure nostalgia
Concert review: Smashing Pumpkins treat longtime fans to a dose of pure nostalgia

With the pricier tickets topping $100, the long overdue, mostly original four-piece lineup — bassist D’arcy Wretzky wasn’t included — reunion tour of Smashing Pumpkins counted on crowd members in their 40s and 50s longing for some 1990s nostalgia.  And founding members Billy Corgan, Jimmy Chamberlin and James Iha did not...
Concert review and photos: Culture Club, B-52s and Tom Bailey brave the rain to brighten up Chastain
Concert review and photos: Culture Club, B-52s and Tom Bailey brave the rain to brighten up Chastain

From the…And So It Goes Department. On Saturday night, Jason Aldean’s sold-out performance at SunTrust Park was delayed more than an hour because of a severe weather threat – and it never rained. On Sunday night, the blissful ‘80s lineup of Tom Bailey (of Thompson Twins fame), The B-52s and Culture Club sold out State Bank...
Chick-fil-A enters meal-kit market

Since the advent of the microwave and the frozen dinner, companies have come up with ways to help the home cook put a meal on the table in minutes. Most recently, that’s meant the rise of meal-kit services, a sector now well-stocked with names like HelloFresh, Blue Apron, Home Chef, Freshly and Plated, and local contenders such as PeachDish and...
Two Atlanta ‘90 Day Fiance’ couples: divorce for one; ugliness for the other
Two Atlanta ‘90 Day Fiance’ couples: divorce for one; ugliness for the other

This was a rocky season for both Atlanta women featured on TLC’s “90 Day Fiance: Happily Ever After?” For Molly Hopkins, first known in reality world as part of the Lifetime reality show “Double Divas,” her whirlwind romance with a much younger Dominican Republican bartender resulted in marriage - then divorce...
Things to do in and around Atlanta for Monday, July 23
Things to do in and around Atlanta for Monday, July 23

Greetings, Yet Another Atlanta Monday. If you think you’re getting us down, what with your sky-high humidity and your long work week looming, guess again. There are plenty of things going on in and around town today that are guaranteed to elevate our spirits and maybe even stimulate our collective brain cells a bit. All we have to do is get off...
More Stories