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Kirov Ballet - 'Don Quixote'

Good as gold

by Cassandra

April 21, 2005 -- Wales Millenium Centre, Cardiff

The new Wales Millennium Centre might just be the best theatre for ballet in the U.K. Although I am usually out of sympathy with modern buildings, this one is imaginatively designed both inside and out. Set in a vast piazza on the beautiful Cardiff Bay, it is the centrepiece of a modern development comparable to London’s Docklands, except it is far more attractive. The theatre is constructed out of local Welsh slate of varying shades, creating a striking striped effect topped off with a slanting roof of stainless steel in a pale gold colour. The locals have already started to refer to the building affectionately as “the armadillo”, a description that only begins to make sense when viewed from out in Cardiff Bay.

Much as I admired the original concept of the exterior, the interior quite bowled me over. To avoid the soulless, standard, modern theatre the auditorium is constructed out of wood with each band in different colours, creating a warm, intimate effect in what is actually a large theatre. The sight lines are excellent and even the standing places at the back are thoughtfully equipped with padded cushions to lean against. The actual stage is superb, with room for the most elaborate of sets.

My first opportunity to enjoy this wonderful theatre was at a matinee performance of “Don Quixote” danced by the Kirov Ballet on their very best form with Furoukh Ruzimatov, no less, as Basil, the role he has made his own. To say Ruzimatov dances as well as ever would not be true; but he performs as well as ever, stalking the stage with a swaggering machismo, with what I always think of as the ‘Furoukh smoulder’ coming across as potently as ever. His Kitri on this occasion was young Olesia Novikova, a classicist blessed with the Kirov style of old. As Kitri, she was doing her best, but the sauciness this character should display so far eludes her. Novikova came into her own as Dulcinea in Don Quixote’s dream where her dancing was so beautiful it made my eyes mist over.

One of the joys of this ballet is the large number of character dancers on display with a tremendous Espada from Islom Baimuradov, a breathtaking gypsy dance from Nikolai Zubkovsky and the outstandingly beautiful Ryo Ji Yeon, who must have been born to dance the Oriental Dance, showing us utter perfection.

Because of the ease of access at the Millennium Centre we were able to see the Don and Sancho Panza make their entrances on a white horse and donkey respectively (both creatures impeccably behaved) and the size of the stage meant we had a windmill with moving sails for poor Don Q. to fall from.

Sadly the theatre wasn’t full at the matinee as "Don Quixote" is a notoriously difficult ballet to sell (I’m told). Mostly the audience was made up of parties of school children, all attentive and as good as gold. When the lights went up in the interval I discovered the two rows of little girls in front of me were almost without exception from ethnic minorities with many in Muslim headscarves, and I watched them rush out excitedly into the vast spaces of the foyers to imitate the jumps and turns they had seen on stage with a warm glow as I realized I must have had at the same age when I first encountered a ballet company. Those future little balletomanes were learning fast, as after noting the “bravos” from adult members of the audience, they were quick to imitate the cheers and again copied the adults to provide a standing ovation at the end. It was a most enjoyable afternoon.

After seeing the great Ruzimatov at the matinee, we were treated to the biggest female star on this tour, Irma Nioradze, at the evening performance. Nioradze has the qualities as Kitri that young Novikova lacked. She’s feisty and street-wise and you just know that her father has no chance of getting this Kitri to meekly comply with his matrimonial ambitions. As her lover, Basil, Anton Korsakov looked sleek and sexy most of the time but perhaps this baby-faced potential star, though treating us to some fabulous dancing, doesn’t yet have the extrovert quality the role needs.Changes of cast in the character roles brought us Andrei Merkuriev as a very glamorous Espada. Merkuriev is exceptionally good looking and seems to want to trade on his looks to some extent, but his continual dazzling smile seemed out of place and he lacked the dangerous edge that Baimuradov brought to the role at the earlier performance.

The only disappointment was the casting of Alina Somova as Queen of the Dryads at both matinee and evening performances. Somova is in appearance a gymnast; she doesn’t so much dance as display her limbs in seemingly impossible extensions and is ill matched with her more classical colleagues. The Kirov management might seriously re-think the casting of this dancer in so prominent a role.

Happily the evening performance attracted a bigger crowd than the matinee and the curtain calls were a special pleasure.  When a Nioradze fan, unable to buy flowers as the local florist was undergoing renovations (what a missed opportunity for sales!), threw a very cute teddy bear on stage, both Nioradze and the audience were delighted.

Edited by Staff.

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