It’s shocking that I’ve never read the novel, though I was always familiar with the story, but that didn’t matter for the Royal Ballet’s performance of Don Quixote. I saw it via the live screening (I love these – I can rarely make it to London for a performance) with my adult ballet class, and the effect is always good: the view is often better than being in the theatre itself, because you can see the dancers’ facial expressions close-up and appreciate not only their dancing but also their acting skills, though it can be harder to get a sense of the whole stage in some scenes. For the live screened performance of Carlos Acosta’s production of Petipa’s ballet, Kitri was danced by Akana Takada and Basilio by Alexander Campbell in a production full of energy, enthusiasm and athleticism. The movement and colour of the Spanish setting is reflected in the spark between Takada and Campbell, whose relationship moves from playful flirtation to a deeper romantic bond as the ballet progresses, culminating in a more traditional, beautiful pas de deux in the final act, reflected in the costume change (see image below).
As the interval talks discussed, the feel of the performance is carefully worked on, from the music to the costumes to the steps, to enhance the Spanish flavour of the ballet. Martin Yates, the conductor, outlined his tweaks to the score by Minkus to fit the feel of the Royal Ballet’s production (played with wonderful gusto which matched that of the dancers), while Darcey Bussell is shown in rehearsal with Takada exploring the movement. It’s fascinating to consider how the steps of classical ballet, danced very rapidly, are translated to a style appropriate to the setting with tiny additions such as an exaggerated curve of the foot and arch of the back, or the sharper angle of the wrist. These small Spanish emphases are presented with brio by the company and their evident delight in the pace and drama is infectious. The Spanish-style costumes are perfect, in part because they are unobtrusive, setting the tone without taking over the aesthetic.
Don Quixote is a ballet of many parts, from classical to character, with pantomime style humour which is amusing without being overdone from Don Quixote himself (Christopher Saunders) and his sidekick Sancho Panza (Philip Mosley), who both clown around and express deep pathos and emotion, particularly in Don Quixote’s dignified reverence for the mystical Dulcinea (Lara Turk). I was perhaps less keen on the ballet blanc interlude with the Dryads (in fact it was blanc only in style; the classical costumes were pastel colours!) but for me this part seemed somewhat cloying, though Anna Rose O’Sullivan was brilliantly coquettish as Amour, and the set is lurid and hallucinatory, which works very well given Don Q’s recent knock on the head by a windmill. The whole company are involved and often all on stage at the same time, and with the rapid changes and different styles of dance and costume, it’s amazing that the whole performance should seem quite so coherent – but it does, and while the narrative thread seems complicated when you read it in the programme, in fact it seems natural and is pleasantly easy to follow on the stage. It’s a noisy, exuberant, sunshine-filled performance which is perfect for a gloomy February night.