Ballet Review: Don Quixote

By Susan Mudie

Royal New Zealand Ballet with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra

Date / Venue:  Thursday March 26th, ASB Theatre, Auckland

Don Quixote is a wonderful all ages family ballet, an easy to follow story that delivers a pleasing balance of inspiring choreography enlivened with Spanish flare, a robust score delivered perfectly by Nigel Gaynor, and a strong comic thread, all of which add up to a joyful production with plenty of swagger.

Don Quixote's romantic quest is played out in sun drenched Spanish courtyards, the shadowlands of Gypsy camps and Don Quixote's dreams, and for the most part the sets and costuming do a terrific job of transporting you there. The evocative moonlit simplicity of the Gypsy camp and The Don's dream sequence is breathtaking and the standout in staging.

The sun-drenched courtyards are filled with characters in rosy hues of red, pinks and violets, and you can almost feel the sun beating off the sun drenched stone, even if the angled buildings framing the marketplace are a trifle folksy and slightly claustrophobic. With a big cast presence and strong characters less is definitely more with the sets.

You would expect the show to be owned by the title character, but actually the chivalrous and comically mad Knight is the narrative thread weaving together a much stronger and captivating cast of characters that he meets on his adventures.

It is these characters that truly light up the stage. The love story brought to life by Kohei Iwamoto and Mayu Tanigaito as lovers Basilio and Kitri is a delight to watch, and deliver some of the finest moments in the production. Both dance with an elegant vigour and handle some of the more technically difficult moves with grace and ease (the Act 3 Scene 2 grand pas de deux elicited a hearty bellow from the crowd). Kohei, one of the RNZB's strongest dancers, delivers clean, crisp movements made thrilling by his exuberance and flare. Both artists give an effortless performance that delivers the exhilaration you would hope for.

Comedy is a key component in Don Quixote and Paul Mathews sly Gamache steals the stage whenever he is on it, a yellow and green wide boy in a Fedora and glittering New Orleans love beads. Mathews performance is nicely balanced; his comic pitch is perfect but even as a dancing drunk you still get a taste of the artist. This is something I would have liked to see more from John Hull's Don Quixote. In driving the comic elements of the Don's character, dancing was often non-existent or second place. Matthews performance shows both are achievable and is richer for it. His manipulation of a small, furry white dog puppet was also an unexpected delight and crowd pleaser.

Abigail Boyle's Mercedes sultry turn is another well-rounded performance. Exotic, knowing and mesmerising, she has attitude and all eyes are on her. Draped and preening at the side of the stage you find yourself watching her even before she begins to dance.

Clytie Campbell's Queen Driad is a deliciously refined performance, Harry Skinner's high handed and overbearing father is a lovely foil for the delicate and spry KitriMaclean Hopper's Cupid is exuberant perfection and Shane Urton as the Don's nephew and companion Sancho is charming in his awkwardness, bristling with nervous energy. The Don himself is a sweet eccentric, his puffed out chest and countenance hinting at an inner dignity.

The rest of the supporting cast of elegant bridesmaids, sultry gypsies, handsome waiters (Damir Emric has real leading man allure), and cheeky sailors dance like a dream and give solid performances, rounding the production into something that is an overall delight.