The Royal Ballet in “Don Quixote”
Royal Opera House, London, July 24 and 25, 2002
by Patrizia Vallone
True balletomanes don’t just go off on vacation; they choose their travel destinations according to their paramount interest. I’m no exception. Year in and year out, I spend a summer month in London in order to see ballets to my heart’s content. This year, I couldn’t miss the Royal Ballet in Rudolf Nureyev’s version of “Don Quixote,” revived by Mark Key.
I’m very attached to this ballet; it was the first one I ever saw live. That was in 1979, at the Rome Opera Theater, with Vladimir Vassiliev as Basilio. Later on, I was lucky enough to see Nureyev himself perform his own choreography — in 1981 with Eva Evdokimova at the Verona Arena and again in 1983 with Monique Loudières and the Paris Opéra Ballet in Rome. Still more recently, in 1999, I saw it performed once again in Rome under Aleth Francillon’s direction, with Maximiliano Guerra and Roberto Bolle alternating as Basilio, and Clairemarie Osta and Laura Comi alternating as Kitri. It was therefore only natural that I should be quite curious to see what the Royal ballet would make of it.
Though I don’t particularly care for Minkus’ score, I find “Don Quixote” a very enjoyable ballet, an amusing comedy full of ordinary folk and no unhappy princesses languishing in enchanted castles.
Nureyev’s choreography, perhaps one of his best, enhances roles that are usually kept in the background, such as Don Quixote himself, Sancho, Lorenzo and Gamache. The resulting action is thus more effective both theatrically and narratively. Of course, Nureyev had built up Basilio’s part for himself.
In London, I saw two performances (July 24 and 25). Both times, the cast was different from the one announced. I wonder why: where the dancers too tired, or perhaps injured? Does the Royal Ballet exploit some of its dancers more than they can stand, making them more subject to injuries?
The principals were Marianela Nuñez and Carlos Acosta on July 24, and Miyako Yoshida and Jonathan Cope on the 25th. I preferred the first couple, for the following reasons.
Kitri and Basilio are commoners, he an unemployed barber and she the daughter of a tavern-keeper, not particularly used to good manners. Yoshida and Cope were far too dainty: she seemed to be a lady posing as a servant, he looked like Siegfried travelling through Spain. Cope is very tall, and seemed unhappy dancing all the variations Nureyev had created for himself. His beautiful long legs were almost in his way while performing all those pas de chat and rondes de jambe en l’air that Nureyev loved so much. Moreover, during the first act he slipped and fell, which certainly didn’t put him in the ideal frame of mind to perform a role full of technical difficulties. His grand jetés and pirouettes were certainly more in his vein, and the public applauded him warmly. For my part, however, I definitely prefer him in more dramatic roles.
Acosta, on the other hand, whose physique is closer to Nureyev’s, executed all the impervious variations and difficulties with apparent ease and confidence. With gestures which were never too little or too much but always just right, he was an ideal Basilio — endearing, mischievous and enamoured.
From the technical viewpoint Miyako Yoshida is impeccable. Her pirouettes are manifold and precise, her starting and final positions are text-book perfect, her leaps are light and her fouettés, with double and triple turns added, throw the public in raptures. However, I feel that she is lacking in warmth.
Marianela Nuñez danced with temperament, a winning way and great technique. Perfect steps, beautiful leaps, great extension, clean turns. Her fouettés, in which she too inserted double and triple turns, are impeccable, though her conclusion was not sterling. The public loved her from the very start and applauded mightily.
As for the other roles, Mara Galeazzi and Belinda Hatley both danced the Queen of the Dryads with grace and elegance, Jenny Tattersall was a very sweet Amour, and the corps de ballet was fine.
Just a word about the staging. This was the old Nureyev production, perhaps the original one put on in 1970 by the Australian Ballet. While the costumes are still acceptable, the painted sets are now outdated and insufferable. Given the number of great designers who work with the Royal Ballet, couldn’t the sets have been brought a bit up to date?