The Royal Ballet's "Don Quixote" and Celebration Gala (PHOTOS)

It was a royal week for Chicago when The Royal Ballet, Great Britain's most prestigious ballet company based at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, came into town (oh yeah, and that time the Blackhawks brought home the Stanley Cup) after a 37-year-absence bringing their critically-acclaimed performance of Carlos Acosta's "Don Quixote". Under the leadership of Kevin O'Hare, the company made its Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University debut last week as part of a three-city U.S. tour which also includes The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (Washington, D.C.) and Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts (New York City).

"Concluding our monumental 125th Anniversary International Dance Series, it is my extreme pleasure to welcome back The Royal Ballet to Chicago after a long absence. Seeing the company perform on our landmark stage [is] a memory of a lifetime for all of us," said Auditorium Theatre Executive Director Brett Batterson. "The Royal Ballet [has brought] the finest dancers in the world to Chicago and we are honored to be one of three venues throughout the entire country presenting this esteemed company on their North-American tour."

Royal Ballet Principal Guest Artist Carlos Acosta's production of "Don Quixote" was created especially for The Royal Ballet in 2013 with arrangements and orchestrations by Royal Ballet Conductor Martin Yates. The epic story ballet follows the adventures of bumbling knight Don Quixote, accompanied by his ever-faithful squire Sancho Panza, as he embarks on a quest for his ideal woman. Along the way, Don Quixote stumbles upon lovers, Kitri and Basilio, who, despite their longing to marry one another, are unable due to Kitri's father, Lorenzo, who wants her to marry the wealthy Gamache. A journey ensues as the lovers try to escape their planned lives while Don Quixote tries to right the wrongs of the world.

What an exuberant production perfect for showcasing the sheer talent of everyone involved with The Royal Ballet. Acosta's electric choreography was beautifully supported by Tony award and Olivier award-winning designer Tim Hatley's vibrant set that had a life of its own. The Royal Ballet graciously gave me exclusive backstage access to view Hatley's intricate costume designs up close. The Spanish-influenced pieces were dominated by layers and layers of ruffles with beautiful lace detailing and floral patterns for the ladies' flamenco dresses and intricately embroidered bolero ensembles in vivid hues for the gentlemen. Classic ballerina tutus for the dream sequence were outfitted with delicate glittering embellishments in a range of charming pastel colors.

I was not able to attend Acosta's historic final performance as Basilio with Marianela Nuñez's Kitri, but Federico Bonelli's and Sarah Lamb's performances were brilliant in their own right. They tackled their roles with tenacity and possessed compelling chemistry with each lift and pas de deux they executed. Lamb was particularly enchanting with her delicate yet vivacious Kitri playing off Bonelli's charismatic and gravity-defying talent. Gary Avis was lovable and charming as the eccentric titular character and Johannes Stepanek shined with his comedic chops as the dandy Gamache providing many of the evening's biggest laughs.

New Yorkers still have a chance to catch The Royal Ballet's final stop through this weekend (Jun 23-28) at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets for their mixed programing can be found here.

Follow Johannes Stepanek backstage in the photo gallery below as he gets ready for his performance as Gamache as well as coverage of a special gala at the new Chicago Athletic Association Hotel hosted by the Auditorium Theatre to celebrate the return of The Royal Ballet which included a dinner with Royal Ballet dancers and members of the artistic staff. Jay Franke and David Herro acted as the gala co-chairs with British Consul General Stephen and Mrs. Kim Bridges as the evening's honorary chairs.

The Royal Ballet's "Don Quixote" and Gala Celebration