Don Quixote: Brilliant Ballet Served Up With Spanish Pizzazz

By Sam Smith Last edited 34 months ago
Don Quixote: Brilliant Ballet Served Up With Spanish Pizzazz ★★★★★ 5

Carlos Acosta and Marianela Nuñez complete yet another exceptional pas de deux © Alastair Muir

Londonist Rating: ★★★★★

Although not strictly the Royal Ballet’s Christmas offering (that honour goes to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland which begins on 6 December) there is so much fun to be found in Don Quixote that it should prove the perfect winter warmer or festive treat.

The ballet is based on Miguel de Cervantes’ eponymous novel and, utilising a score by Ludwig Minkus, premiered in Russia in 1869 to choreography by Marius Petipa (who was responsible for two acts of Swan Lake). This Royal Ballet version, however, is only a year old and sees Minkus’s music arranged by the evening’s conductor Martin Yates, and the piece rechoreographed by Carlos Acosta, Principal Guest Artist of the company.

The plot sees Don Quixote (Christopher Saunders) believe he is a successor to the medieval knights-errant, and decide to go on a quest with sidekick Sancho Panza (Philip Mosley) to find the woman of his dreams, Dulcinea (Christina Arestis). In the process, he encounters the vivacious Kitri who is in love with the barber Basilio but whose father is determined that she marry the wealthy fop Gamache (Bennet Gartside). Don Quixote believes she is Dulcinea and, following a series of shenanigans and escapes, is instrumental in helping her to wed her true love, partly by marrying Gamache off to a tavern girl.

If the ballet story is hardly substantial in its own right, it acts as an excellent forum to present a host of exuberant dances with a huge dose of Spanish pizzazz. Acosta’s claim that in the ballet ‘Everything is over the top and satiric’ is true, but it risks doing his creation a disservice because the dancers are bringing panache to their exceptionally strong classical techniques. For example, as Kitri, Royal Ballet Principal Marianela Nuñez brings incredible technique, smoothness and spatial awareness to her flamenco and castanet dances. She and Acosta (who plays Basilio) form a dream partnership who not only present several wondrous pas de deux, but top such demonstrations of technical brilliance with smiles and glances that bring genuine joy and hence dramatic integrity to the evening.

Elsewhere there are ‘dance-offs’, conga lines and ‘birthday’ bumps (with Sancho Panza being thrown high in the air) but there is depth too as a flashy and seductive gypsy dance gives way to a genuinely moving quartet of dancers. One senses that Acosta, by being a dancer at the height of his game, has been able to take greater risks in the demands he has placed on the performers by being entirely up-to-date on their capabilities. In this truly outstanding display of their talents, star turns come from Ryoichi Hirano as the matador Espada, Claire Calvert as the street dancer Mercedes, and Yuhui Choe and Beatriz Stix-Brunell as Kitri’s friends.

Add in Tim Hatley’s sun-baked set designs and we move further still towards the perfect evening at the ballet, but what crowns it all is the genuine humanity that lies at the heart of the characterisations. It manifests itself in the way in which Basilio knows when simply to play along with Kitri’s dancing with other men; in Kitri’s farewell kiss to Don Quixote as he continues on his quest at the end, and in Basilio’s shaking of Gamache’s hand in a final gesture of magnanimity. Acosta’s Don Quixote must surely rank as a modern masterpiece, and comes highly recommended to ballet aficionados and newcomers alike.

Until 22 January (18 performances, various start times) at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London WC2E 9DD. Casts vary over the run. For further details and tickets (£6-£115) visit the Royal Opera House website.

Londonist received a complimentary ticket and programme from the Royal Ballet press team.

Last Updated 01 December 2014