Tom Skerritt, clad in track pants and sweaty from rehearsal, smiles fondly at an equally damp Allen Galli. “You’ve always been my Pancho, ach, Sancho. Sancho Panza!” Skerritt laughs and turns to me, “Allen’s always been my Sancho,” he says, “Sometimes I watch him so closely that I just get lost, but that’s why we work well together. I can be a lummox and not know my cues because Allen always does—he’s just that good!”
Skerritt, a renowned screen actor known for his work in The Turning Point, A River Runs Through It, and the television show Picket Fences, and Galli, a veteran actor who has graced the stages of Village Theater, Seattle Children’s Theater, and ACT, reprise their roles as Don Quixote and Sancho Panza in Pacific Northwest Ballet’s upcoming production of Don Quixote. Yet with all their collective professional prowess and the acclaim they received for the same roles in PNB’s 2012 Don Quixote production, Skerritt and Galli approach this character work with wonder and devotion.
Character roles are the actors in classical story ballets who don’t actually do any dancing but are central to the successful execution of many productions. In Don Quixote, the Don and his loyal, fortune-seeking servant Sancho play a significant role in guiding the audience through the somewhat intricate plotlines and subtexts. Don Quixote isn’t a simple story, and as PNB’s production preserves Cervantes’ not-so-subtle commentaries on social class, Skerritt and Galli have a challenging task ahead of them.
“We don’t have lines as cues, we have movements.” says Galli. “There’s the classical array of gestures [used to communicate in story ballets] and we have to ‘listen’ to those gestures, watch [for our own cues]. You have to use your body, make it big!”
“It takes some major adjustments from acting,” says Skerritt. “You’re not responding to your colleagues’ lines, verbal cues, the timing they may choose to use that night to lay down [he slams his hand on the table] and deliver a point. We have to react big and I’m not given to that. In this, you’re relying on the musical cues entirely, and the dancers’ movements, but I don’t dance! I took an Arthur Murray class with my wife and they tore down the studio right after that!”
Skerritt isn’t entirely new to the world of ballet but still finds the role of Don Quixote to be physically challenging. Referring to his four weeks of ballet classes to prepare for his role of Wayne in the 1977 film The Turning Point, he says “I enjoyed it then. It was physically and emotionally exhilarating. Now I get physically pooped. Men at my age are not forced to take these kinds of risks. I needed to work with someone who knows what he’s doing, and that is Allen.”
Despite the central roles that Don Quixote and Sancho Panza play in the story, their roles onstage in the PNB productions don’t overshadow the dancers. When I asked the two men what they liked most about playing character roles, Skerritt lit up with enthusiasm. “To be onstage, to watch this Monet painting happen each night in front of you, the dancers bouncing effortlessly. Boy! To see and feel and hear their effort when they hit the stage, BAM! That force!”
Galli agrees, “To be sitting onstage with all this going on,” he says. “And the wine!”
“Oh yes, the wine!” laughs Skerritt. “One night we complained about the wine to Peter [PNB Artistic Director Peter Boal] and the next night he actually brought out good wine for use to drink onstage.”
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