The Australian Ballet’s production of Don Quixote is a triumph of beauty and idealism.
In a world weary with cynicism, the power of the crazy old idealist wins out! Don Quixote is a figure of fun – a silly, ageing man with delusions of grandeur as a knight errant. Yet in the course of this dance of the mind he somehow helps the cause of young love to prevail against a rich nobleman’s scheming and a father’s determination to force an arranged but profitable marriage for his daughter.
The legendary Rudolf Nureyev produced and choreographed this piece for the Australian Ballet back in 1970, when he danced the role of the young lover Basilio, and in 1972, he and Sir Robert Helpmann made their acclaimed film version of the ballet in Melbourne’s Essendon Airport hangar over 25 days in 40-degree heat. This helped to establish the Australian Ballet’s reputation among the Olympian heights of the world’s great dance companies – more than a decade before Nureyev went to become the artistic director of the Paris Opera Ballet.
The romantic splendour of old Spain is a colourful backdrop for this ageless story conceived by Miguel de Cervantes four centuries ago. Lucinda Dunn is outstanding in the role of Kitri, the innkeeper’s daughter. While her father Lorenzo wishes to marry her off to Gamache, a rich nobleman and dead-set fop, she wants to marry her beloved Basilo, a young barber danced courageously by Robert Curran. Rudolph Nureyev is a hard act to follow but Curran acquits himself well in this study of youthful ardour.
Lucinda Dunn dances exquisitely and with utter confidence. Her beauty enthrals Quixote (danced by Joseph Janusaitis) who sees her as his Dulcinea whom he vows to protect. Mind you, this Dulcinea does not look as if she needs a lot of protection, and the strength of her character was reflected in the artfulness of her dance.
There’s nothing like a few Spanish bullfighters to allow for lavishness in costumes, right down to the hair-nets on the matadors. Against a set full of the sky and sea of a port city, the crazy old Don is catapulted into the struggle of young love against a would-be arranged marriage. The corps de ballet take the audience through a tour of Iberian richness, as they become in turn townspeople, matadors, gypsies and Dryads. There is a vibrancy and passion for life coming through the story as it unfolds in dance.
In Act 2, the would-be knight errant Don Quixote and his squire, Sancho Panza (Mark Kaye) find shelter under a windmill but are captured by a troop of gypsy players. Don Quixote is distracted by the windmills which he mistakes for monsters. He attacks them, thereby ensuring that “tilting at windmills” is forever the sport of noble idealists.
Artistic director David McAllister is to be commended for keeping the traditions of the Australian Ballet while commissioning new, original works. It is terrific that he was able to secure the services of Lucette Aldous (who danced Kitri with Nureyev back in the ’70s) to share her knowledge of this magnificent ballet with current members of the company.
Brisbane audiences love to see the Australian Ballet (unlike the Sydney-focussed Opera Australia which never comes here). The Australian Ballet chair David Crawford and his board are to be applauded for maintaining the touring traditions of this great Australian cultural institution.
Why does Cervantes’ tale echo so strongly through the generations? The tragic image of a crazy old man is dominated by King Lear; but the comic image of the Don ennobles the madness of idealism. Our world could do with more such crazy old men.
If you believe in an ordered world where windmills will never replace coalmines, this is not the ballet for you. If, however, you entertain the lunatic notion that idealism can allow love to triumph in a wicked world, then this ballet will enable you to glimpse a dazzling truth only a pas de deux away.
Choreography by Rudolph Nureyev after Marius Petipa
Music by Ludwig (Leon) Minkus arranged by John Lanchberry
Concertmaster Warwick Adeney and the Queensland Orchestra Concertmaster
Until 27 February 2007 at the Lyric Theatre, QPAC, then 16 to 27 March 2007 (Melbourne) and 5 to 26 April 2007 (Sydney)
Duration: 2.5 hours with two intervals (20 minutes and 15 minutes)