His Majesty’s Theatre, Perth, May 11 and 12.
Don Quixote is all fluff and high spirits. Based glancingly on the Cervantes novel, the ballet foregrounds the romance between Kitri, an innkeeper’s daughter, and the impecunious barber Basilio. Kitri’s father would prefer her to marry money, which turns up in the form of Gamache, a fool.
Crusading knight Don Quixote bumbles upon the scene and complications ensue before everything is sorted. A fancy wedding entirely out of keeping with Kitri and Basilio’s meagre fortunes follows but what the heck. This is a rom-com, a fantasy and a chance for dancers to show off their classical chops while having fun.
West Australian Ballet’s production is a judiciously slimmed-down staging created in 2010 by Lucette Aldous, a celebrated Kitri in her day. It could be argued that bigger is better when it comes to Don Q: hordes of merry townsfolk, a substantial band of gypsies and a gorgeously attired corps in the vision scene can do much to buoy the featherweight narrative. Nevertheless, Aldous’s production is mostly effective theatrically, albeit with one big, regrettable loss. Don Quixote’s reverie, in which he sees Kitri as his beloved Dulcinea, is ruthlessly pulled back to feature only the leading characters. The scene lacks meaning and magic.
In Allan Lees’s warm design the first image is of a huge page flapping and floating in the air as if torn from a gigantic book: Don Quixote is dreaming of chivalrous deeds. Later, when the Don famously tilts at windmills, pages swirl about evocatively as the wind howls. It’s an elegant solution in a production that moves swiftly from scene to scene. After their very brief introduction Don Quixote and sidekick Sancho Panza head off on their adventures, the Don seated, endearingly, on a wine cask. Within a minute or so the main action has begun in San Sebastian’s town square.
At the first performance newly minted principal dancers Chihiro Nomura and Gakuro Matsui were sweet, charming lovers whose appeal was that of light playing on dappled leaves rather than the midday-sun swelter of the second cast Kitri and Basilio, soloists Florence Leroux-Coléno and Cuban-trained newcomer Oscar Valdés.
Nomura and Matsui are both finely tuned classicists – and Matsui a fine partner – who made light work of the barrage of small beaten steps and flurries of manèges and pirouettes that keep the principals very busy indeed. The next night Leroux-Coléno and Valdés turned up the wattage with a knowing and vivacious account of Kitri and Basilio. True, they over-indulged themselves with the tricky one-arm lift in Act I – Valdés held Leroux-Coléno aloft, twice, for longer than I’ve seen anywhere and it was frankly just showing off, although one had to admire the chutzpah. Well, perhaps Li Cunxin, now artistic director of Queensland Ballet, held the moment just as long when appearing as Basilio for The Australian Ballet in 1999 but he was entitled – it was his farewell performance. Less would have been more for Leroux-Coléno and Valdés at that point.
At times Valdés’s dash trumped finesse but his ebullience and daring are exciting. He gets thrilling height and speed in his double saut de basque and when he danced the Lead Gypsy on opening night the temperature on stage rose dramatically.
Valdés was well matched with Leroux-Coléno, whose good humour and spark made her a witty, flavourful, memorable Kitri. It is beyond understanding why she is not a principal artist in this company.
Andre Santos was the highly enjoyable Gamache in the first performance and a high-octane Lead Gypsy the next night, tossing in an airborne cartwheel as if in answer to the “get that” 540 (a complicated air turn that comes from martial arts) with which Valdés punctuated his Lead Gypsy pyrotechnics. Santos is leaving at the end of this season after eight years with WAB to return to Brazil and will be sorely missed, particularly in light of some disappointing performances from higher ranked dancers on Thursday and Friday. The company is looking somewhat uneven.
Principal Matthew Lehmann did not appear match fit for the role of the matador Espada in the first performance. At the second, Alessio Scognamiglio heroically carried off Espada’s unforgiving pink satin outfit with oodles of the matador’s self-regarding glamour, displayed in luxurious backbends and arrogant strides about the stage. Brooke Widdison-Jacobs, also a principal artist, was miscast as the flashy street-dancer Mercedes in the second cast but at the opening demi-soloist Polly Hilton was alluring in the role. Swings and roundabouts.
Looking further down the ranks, corps de ballet member Carina Roberts continues to make her mark on the company and was a fleet, enchanting Cupid in the vision scene and the alternative Gamache, corps member Adam Alzaim, was goofily appealing. The Don is something of a dancing role in this production and both Christian Luck and Christopher Hill affectingly captured a man who still has some physical vigour while his faculties dim.
Minkus’s score may not be a masterpiece but it’s cheerful earworm material and West Australian Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Canadian guest conductor Judith Yan gave a rollicking account of it.
Don Quixote ends in Perth on May 27. Performances in Albany, June 24; Kalgoorlie, June 30; and Bunbury, July 7.
2 Comments Add yours
Deborah, I saw WAB’s Don Q on the weekend, and had quite a nice time, as there was much to enjoy, especially the leading dancers. After reading your review, I’m very glad I saw the second cast, which was very well matched and exciting, as you pointed out in your review. Yes, the over-long one-arm lifts looked very dopey.
I have some questions about authorship and the way ballets are acredited. This production is very much like Nureyev’s for the Australian Ballet, and not unlike Baryshnikov’s at American Ballet Theatre. How much of Petipa is still there is anyone’s guess, because the Soviet companies were known to muck about with productions. Perhaps Bayadere is the most bastardised, after Swan Lake. I found the pace of the WAB production most uneven, and the speed of some sections both inane and unmusical, as well as flashy and dangerous. There was almost no rubato in the conducting, and so the ballet felt like it had no few peaks and quite a lot of shallow troughs.
Hence the question – Why do a reduction of a grand production without the appropriate casts and resources? In this case, retired dancers and some actors could have filled the stage at the right times as extras; younger dance students could have been urchins and so on. But I think it’s a big ask. When we did Giselle at the QB in the 1960s, we had a small cast of regulars, but a very strong corps swelled by engaging well-trained dance students and graduates in their late teens and twenties. We were lucky it was so well produced too, thanks to Charles Lisner and Mary Heath’s preparatory classes in Romantic style, and to Garth Welch’s quiet, detailed staging and rehearsals. The very young Lynette Mann played the Queen of the Wilis, and revealed her incredible flight, strength and beautiful feet that carried her throughout her career. And we did it all with peanuts.
Nowadays, I think there’s too much effort and money splashed around on productions, and not enough on the content of the ballet. Here is two examples. Why is the setting a Spanish version of Perth’s Peppermint Grove? And why on earth is Basilio wearing white tights and silk blouse with a heraldic shield of royal blue and gold? He’s a penniless barber! And why did Kitri looked like a queen, with a huge gold tiara, and a costume from Raymonda or even Sleeping Beauty? agree with you too about the gauche colours for the costumes for the Matador and his mates.
I don’t want to seem to be beating this production up as a sole example of what is wrong with various ballet productions in recent years. I’m not a fan of TAB’s Sleeping Beauty for many of the same reasons, even less that it’s latest Swan Lake. So why do all the very hard work in the ballet studio on technique and style, then not do as much work on music preparation? accept witless costume designs? and not determine a style for the whole production? I think if you want to show the classics, they have to be the real McCoy. And that takes a heck of a lot more than we saw evidence of on His Maj’s stage.
Great to hear from you Lee. Yes, the production is indeed very much the Nureyev one, although not with the kind of zing intended, I think we could say. The production needs to sing and sparkle because the content is so thin – I agree with you about the stage being underpopulated. It’s interesting to hear about your Giselle – it’s all that moment-by-moment, intensely detailed work that delivers a satisfying production, isn’t it?