By Kelly Carmichael
Date / Venue: Friday March 28th, ASB Theatre (Aotea Centre), Auckland
Don Quixote is an odd sort of ballet. Loosely based on Miguel de Cervantes' sweeping 17th century tale of romance and chivalry, Don Quixote was debuted in Moscow's Bolshoi Theatre in 1869 and is regularly staged internationally. When performed the choreography of Don Quixote is frequently stunning and flamboyant, but the story is creaky and more often than not doesn't really make sense. Bizarrely the title character, Don Quixote himself, is barely visible in the plot or on the stage. And when he does appear it is as a slightly doddery figure whose love of chivalry and zealous desire to restore it has led to a wavering of his mental faculties. Instead it is the story of thwarted lovers Kitri and Basilio which runs throughout the ballet and provides the thematic and physical highpoints.
As narrative isn't this particular ballet's strong point, attention can rest on the dancers and their personalities. The Imperial Russian Ballet didn't disappoint in this respect, giving a packed Auckland audience one of their most expressive ballerinas in the role of Street Dancer. The passionate and gracefulAnna Pashkova beautifully spiced up a drawn-out and slow beginning to Act One. First appearing after the bullfighters' procession Pashkova dances with the famous toreador Espada in a dance between daggers. In a scene set in a tavern later in Act Two, Pashkova challenges Amurchik, the tavern's owner, in a jealous rage over Espada's affections. As the two women face off in a duet on the bar we witness a fabulous display of strong emotion, sensuality and stunning footwork. As the toreador Espada, Alexandru Balan has the right combination of virility and bravado. His performance is energetic and spirited and when combined with Anna Pashkova in both Acts One and Two evokes something special.
Danced by Lina Seveliova, the spirited Kitri was coquettish and elegant. Nariman Bekzhanov delivered some show-stopping lifts and catches, as well as a flirtatious and well-developed character role as the dashing but comic Basilio. The lovers Kitri and Basilio are responsible for a great part of Don Quixote's choreographic fireworks that provide marvelous star turns for its principal dancers, including several pas de deux. The lovers' grand pas de deux in Act Three is a difficult piece. Here we see the traditional form of the grand pas: an opening adage, a variation for both male and female dancers, and a coda in which they are reunited. Basilio offers exuberant barrel turns but it is Kitri who steals the show with her famous 32 fouettes (a quick whipping movement of the raised leg accompanying a pirouette). Lina Seveliova also performed beautifully en pointe during Quixote's dream sequence, accompanied by the heavenly Radamaria Nazarenko-Duminica who brought a silken majesty to the scene.
What Don Quixote lacks in story telling it makes up with its vivacious Spanish setting, joyful romantic ending and fancy choreography. In this production by the Imperial Russian Ballet, however, the dancers have to compete with sets that are incredibly busy and garish in colour. Along with costumes which echo the reds, oranges and autuminal tones behind them it is at times a cluttered stage, further emphasised by near constant movement behind the principal dancers. Perhaps the muddle of the sets contributed to why I left feeling this particular production didn't quite ignite. There were some excellent performances, but somehow it didn't gel as an amazing ballet. Unlike other productions of Don Quiote I've seen there also wasn't a great sense of fun about it, which there should be. As a ballet, the characters of Don Quiote work best larger-than-life, the dancing should be full of showy tricks, thrills and flourishes and the characters warm to the touch. For me it was Anna Pashkova who brought the real sizzle and excitement to this performance.