Don Quixote

Choreography by Carlos Acosta after Marius Petipa, music by Ludwig Minkus
Royal Ballet
Royal Opera House

Carlos Acosta as Basilio in Don Quixote Credit: Johan Persson
Marianela Nuñez as Kitri in Don Quixote Credit: Johan Persson
Carlos Acosta in Don Quixote rehearsal Credit: Andrej Uspenski
Don Quixote poster Credit: AKA, courtesy of The Royal Opera House

The Royal Opera House has spared no cost on Carlos Acosta’s lavish new production of Don Quixote.

Acosta has pulled all the stops out—dancing opening night too—and, I would say, in his first sortie as choreographer and director he has pretty much achieved what he set out to do: to make the characters in Marius Petipa’s 1869 comic mime ballet Don Quixote convincing, and to leave the audience in a happy mood.

Lots of characters and character dancing, many divertissements, authentic gestures (it’s the little gestures that make all the difference), excellent characterisation, classical fireworks, a mix to which Acosta brings his natural warmth and Cuban-Hispanic sensitivity, and a partnership (and a grand finale) with Argentinian Marianela Nuñez that raises the roof.

Visually a breath of fresh air has blown through Cervantes's novel. New sets and costumes from Tim Hatley, Hugh Vanstone’s dramatic lighting design of golden sunsets and purple twilight, and a making sense of Petipa’s original, with influences from all over the place.

Don Quixote’s dark box bedroom where visions of Dulcinea, strange black-hooded semana santa penitentes demons (not sure about these), and Sancho Panza disturb his reveries, and a bed post becomes a handy lance; a bustling town full of light; a gypsy encampment (Antonio Gades El Amor Brujo territory); a dreamscape Dryad garden (creeping tendrils and giant purple daisies); a lively tavern scene (Béjart’s Bolero comes to mind); a shaggy straw Rocinante; black windmills, toreadors, thieving urchins, dancing on wagons (Seven Brides for Seven Brothers?), and lots of joie de vivre.

At times Acosta strays into pantomime and musical theatre in his bold attempts at reality—shouts of guapa, cheers, clapping and flamenco guitar players on stage, two ballerinas (Nuñez and Laura Morera) in a dance off on a tavern bar top—but, dancing with great style, there is no doubt he can claim his year’s labour a triumph and another feather in his cap. And who knew he took such delight in being such a ham, Basilio’s fake death throes pure panto.

Granted a Gala Première night is a fun night when many leave their critical faculties behind, but the ovation and the flowers raining down from left and right on to the stage are some evidence of the fondness in which Acosta and his lead ballerina Marianela Nuñez are held. And she is spectacular, a Kitri loving and feisty, mood switching on a turn.

And turn she does in the final act—by which time the whole cast must all be exhausted—sailing through all the bravura tricks with flair, incredible balance and poise, an expressive shake of the shoulders and a dazzling smile. Acosta matches her as poor barber Basilio, a role he has danced many times: one hand lifts, and lifts in which he dares to let go of her for a dangerous split second, tender attention and genuine rapport.

Adrenalin rush no doubt carries them all through the three-act with prologue ballet. Too many to name check, but Christopher Saunders is a charming bumbling Don, and Bennet Gartside deliciously camps up the effete rich buffoon nobleman Gamache who wants to marry Kitri. An unrecognisable Gary Avis plays her father Lorenzo, who would sell her to the highest bidder.

Ryoicho Hirano excels himself and has fun as famous hot toreador Espada, and Laura Morera brings Spanish fire to street dancer Mercedes. Melissa Hamilton is a regal Queen of the Dryads. I overheard Peter Schaufuss asking after her name and Elizabeth Harrod’s, who dances Amour.

True love wins, as it should, carried on a wave of goodwill. A marriage made in heaven. Some tweaks will be made along the way, but this one should last. Classical ballet with the common touch.

There are fourteen performances of Don Quixote, and dancers in the lead roles of Basilio and Kitri will include Federico Bonelli and Sarah Lamb; Steven McRae, Iana Salenko (principal of Staatsballett Berlin) and soloist Akane Takada (debuting in role); and Alexander Campbell and Roberta Marquez.

It will be broadcast Live on 16 October.

Reviewer: Vera Liber

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