Imperial Russian Ballet
Teatro Cuyas, Gran Canaria
9th, 10th (mat & eve), 11th (mat & eve)
Don Quixote is always a highly colourful ballet, but the version danced by Gediminas Taranda’s Imperial Russian Ballet surpasses all other productions I’ve seen by virtue of its levels of raw energy and sheer exuberance; in fact it moves at such a pace it’s almost exhausting. The cast doesn’t just dance but whistles and shouts Olé as the pace quickens and displays its talent for collective comedy in the funniest rendition of this ballet I’ve ever seen. The production is by Taranda himself and follows closely the standard Russian Petipa/Gorsky choreography that the Bolshoi and Kirov dance but with nips and tucks to accommodate a smaller company.
The opening scene is Don Quixote poring over his books and rescuing the thieving Sancho Panza from his angry pursuers as per usual, but he has a further interruption in the form of a young barber who attempts to trim his straggly locks, this being a good opportunity to introduce the character of Basilio. Moving on to the main action we meet Kitri danced by Alia Tanykpaeva, appearing in a role not usually allocated to a dancer as lyrical as her, but she sharpened up her naturally soft style and attacked the role in a way that made her look every inch a stubborn Spaniard with an over-bearing Dad. That troublesome father is played by Vitautus Taranda in top comedic form looking a rather grubby, greasy-chinned individual determined to control his independently minded daughter. Kitri clearly isn’t his only child as he is helped (or hindered) at his inn by two small children: Denis Taranda, Vitautus’s four year old son and Diamante Taranda, the six year old daughter of Gediminas. At the Saturday evening performance little Kiril Taranda made his stage debut and whereas his elder brother Denis can dance a little, Kiril only just manages to walk a little as it’s a skill he’s still learning.
Kitri’s father is one of a very fine trio of comic characters; Gamache, Kitri’s parent-approved suitor was played by Vladimir Shmigelsky, a former company member who has (despite his youth) retired from the ballet but was persuaded back for this pivotal character role, a little enlarged in this version and perhaps a nod to the fact that in its earliest years this ballet was actually called Le Noces de Gamache. Shmigelsky is quite simply the best Gamache I’ve ever seen and one of the few to understand that effete doesn’t have to mean effeminate. This Gamache is very proactive in his wooing of Kitri to the extent of attempting to turn her duets with Basilio into pas de trois and he’s quick to take offence, reaching for his sword whilst tossing back his beautifully coiffed curls and he doesn’t hesitate to duel with Don Quixote either, though his victory over the sad old Don was partly due to help from his prospective father-in-law.
It came as a big surprise that Sancho Panza was played by that most elegant of Bolshoi soloists, Yan Godovsky, who only the week before had played the archetypal handsome prince in IRB’s Nutcracker. Godovsky has always struck me as a versatile dancer, equally at home in classical and more contemporary styles of dancing, but I hadn’t expected him to take on the role of the Don’s fat sidekick. Almost unrecognisable beneath the padding and florid make up; he was clearly enjoying himself in the role adding a lot of his own comic touches, he is lecherous, cringing and gluttonous by turns, sidling up to the girls and making a general nuisance of himself. If Mr Godovsky has a fault, it’s that he can be somewhat reticent onstage but it seems that hidden behind Sancho Panza’s padding and makeup is an uninhibited character dancer, eager to play the clown: a very auspicious debut. The Don himself was danced by Alexei Konkin, a young and very tall dancer, though lacking the Don’s traditional skinniness. His aged appearance may have been down to the talents of the makeup department, but he gave the role his best shot and was actually very convincing.
The second act gypsies were quite remarkable, led by brilliant Nariman Bekzhannov the IRB’s exciting leading dancer, lusted after by two very sexy gipsy girls in the shape of Anna Gaidash and Anna Pashkova. It was unusual to see that sultry gypsy dance turned into a duet for two rival women, but it actually worked remarkably well. The Dryads Scene looked quite lovely opening with Cupid sitting on a flower-wreathed swing creating a beautiful tableau with the Dryads grouped around her. She was danced by Maria Sokolnikova, an IRB company member who impresses me whatever the role. The Queen of the Dryads was danced by a tall, willowy girl called Vera Borisenkova from the Bolshoi, the sweetest natured Queen imaginable. I feared that such a long-legged girl would have dismayingly high extensions but in fact she never got to six o’clock as she has an innate instinct for good line. Not the most musical of dancers she is nevertheless a hard worker and improved with every performance; her fragile beauty suiting the role well.
Alia Tanykpaeva’s Kitri was superb, now a leading dancer with Vienna’s Staatsballet she began her career with IRB and has returned as a guest on a regular basis. This was the first time I had seen her in a virtuoso role and its fair to say that there is no aspect of virtuoso technique that is beyond her, in particular her fouettés were a marvel, fast and easy and above all rooted to the spot. This is a rarity now as one tends to rate fouettés today on the shortest distance travelled, when of course they are supposed to finish exactly where they started. It’s not just the pyrotechnics that impress in her performance as she danced the role with a delicious blend of fun and naughtiness switching to elegant perfection in the Dryad scene. Her double work with Martinyuk was perilous I’m afraid but it wasn’t her fault; you had to admire her courage to smile in the face of coping with a partner who was a danger to life and limb though.
Mikhail Martinyuk, a guest from the Kremlin Ballet, was Basilio, a champion turner who can spin like nobody’s business. He danced all five performances back to back, a real balletic marathon, but his partnering left a lot to be desired and after his unsuccessful attempts at the one handed lifts at the earlier performances he eventually abandoned them altogether. His partner, Tanykpaeva, is small and lightweight by the way so his lifting difficulties couldn’t be easily explained away. Martinyuk’s dancing varied from show to show with the Saturday night performance being his best as he crossed the stage in an absolute explosion of speed, but notwithstanding the Saturday night fireworks of the third act, he is not a memorable exponent of the role.
Taking the ballet Don Quixote to Spain seems a little like taking coals to Newcastle but the dance lovers of Gran Canaria seemed to love every minute. Teatro Cuyas is earning a reputation as an international Dance House and I am assured the company will return the same time next year. I can’t think of anywhere better to escape from dull dark freezing January,