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Paris Opera Ballet

'Don Quixote'

It's 'Don Q.' Jim, but not as we know it

by Cassandra

May 24, 2004 -- Opera Bastille, Paris

Seeing Nureyev’s Paris production of “Don Quixote” for the first time came as something of a shock to me. Even accepting the idiosyncratic rethinks that have characterized a number of his productions over the years, this "Don Q." suffers more than most from his substituting traditional choreography with fussy, unappealing passages and downright odd ideas that add little to this bright, sit-back-and-enjoy-it ballet. From the entrance of Sancho Panza in a monk's habit (why?) at the beginning to the thoroughly unattractive arrangement of the Grand Pas at the end, I’m sad to say this production sprang a number of unpleasant surprises on me all the way though.

Putting aside these negatives regarding the production, the performance was one of those very rare occasions when the sense of excitement and expectancy was approaching fever pitch even before the curtain went up. I knew in advance that a number of fans would be going from London , but I was astonished to discover just how many, with some even coming over on Eurostar for the afternoon. The next pleasant surprise was to discover that a huge group of POB dancers and students was sitting right behind me, employing their considerable vocal skills throughout with undiluted enthusiasm.

The two dancers causing all the fuss were Dorothée Gilbert and Emmanuel Thibault, both making their debuts in a full-length work. Mlle. Gilbert is a dancer on the fast track to success, a truth confirmed by the fact that she is given Kitri to dance when she is barely into her twenties. M. Thibault, on the other hand, is a dancer whose career has appeared to stall; his official status is that of sujet, but his reputation is such that it is no exaggeration to describe him as one of the most admired dancers in Europe, hence the extreme interest from all quarters in Sunday’s performance.

"Don Q." is a sunny, happy ballet, making light of the darker more traditional story by Cervantes. Here we are concerned only with the love life of an inn-keeper’s daughter and a young barber.  We know the happy ever after is assured but there are a few blips before actually getting there. As Kitri and Basilio, Gilbert and Thibault make a very well matched pair, both sharing a mischievous sense of humour.  Thibault in particular looks every inch the young Spaniard with his black curly hair and Mediterranean features, but it was his acting that took me aback as he is a complete natural in the role. His opening solo in act 1 was breath-taking as he attacked Nureyev’s finicky chorography with total precision, displaying mercurial footwork and remarkable ballon. Gilbert is a slightly more refined Kitri than we usually see, and it’s hard to imagine her helping her dad throw out the drunks at closing time, but she was very funny when it came to disciplining her flirtatious lover and showing him just who was the boss. She was in charge and he knew it!

In the second act Gilbert was most at home in the sequence of Don Quixote’s dream. I think she is probably more a classicist than a soubrette, she doesn’t yet possess the grand manner of a ballerina.  Given time, however, it may well develop. Back to reality, Thibault was hilarious in his “Death scene”, giving his razor an extra shove into his armpit as he fell onto his cloak – a detail greatly appreciated by us spectators. By the time of the final act, the couple’s inexperience started to show, with errors on both sides but the famous pas de deux (looking a whole lot less familiar than usual, due to Nureyev’s tinkerings) was performed with considerable panache. At curtain fall the audience went wild.

Last weekend was a bank holiday in France and consequently the company packed in three performances of "Don Q." in little more than 24 hours. This I think may have accounted for some ragged lines amongst the corps de ballet in the second act and rather lack lustre performances from some of the soloists who had danced the same roles several times on the trot. Astonishingly M. Thibault had been spotted dancing in the corps de ballet only the day before. Clearly they work them hard at the Opera. Apart from the two main protagonists (I can’t call them principals in this instance, because they are not) I greatly enjoyed the performances of Eve Grinsztajn as the street dancer and Juliane Mathis as Cupid. Yong Geol Kim was a suitably madcap gipsy and Simon Valasto was wildly humorous without being vulgar as Sancho Panza.

But the afternoon belonged to Gilbert and Thibault.  They looked so good together thatI long to see them again. Let's hope I don’t have to wait too long.

Edited by Holly Messitt

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