Don Quixote

Lyric Theatre (Ballet Nacional de Cuba / Brisbane Festival)


Fidel Castro the ballet? No, that would be about a crazy old idealist tilting at windmills whereas this production is about … well, it’s about love!

A standing ovation from the opening night Brisbane audience greeted this exuberant triumph of young love over oppression.

In 1615 Miguel de Cervantes published his story of the retired country gentleman Alonso Quixano nearing 50 years of age, obsessed with chivalry, who dons a suit of armour and sets out as a knight-errant “Don Quixote of La Mancha” in a quest for adventure and besotted by the image of his beautiful, beloved Dulcinea. As Cervantes wrote,”the order of knight-errantry was instituted to defend maidens, to protect widows, and to rescue orphans and distressed persons”.

The Cuban National Ballet make this theme pulse in the spring of contemporary Brisbane just as it did in the Iberian peninsula four centuries ago. The Cuban theme is taken up throughout QPAC with Cuban singers outside, Latin late night dancing, Cuban drinks at the bar and Cuban specials on the restaurant menu. Ole!

This production is set in early 19th century Spain which has been invaded by the French (remember the Bay of Pigs?). The noble knight reponds to the pleas of the townspeople to defend love, freedom and justice (Fidel reconstructed?). A Frenchified nobleman Camacho has come to ask Lorenzo, the innkeeper for the hand of his daughter, Kitri the Beautiful (danced exquisitely by Viengsay Valdez) but she loves a humble barber, Basilio. Don Quixote defends the cause of true love despite the power and money of the nobleman (sanctions?).

A rich sense of colour pervades the performance. The first act starts with the pastels of village life and is later charged with the red and gold of the bullfighters. The second act abounds in fluoro colours amidst the mysterious world of gypsies and Dryads, the nymphs who preside over the groves and forests. The third act dazzles with a glittering white.

The night really belongs to Viengsay Valdez who makes the role of Kitri the Beautiful come alive with sheer virtuosity. She brings an infectious vigour, glee and self-confidence to her first act pas de deux with her barber boyfriend Basilio (danced ably by Elier Bouzac). In the second act her pas de deux with Don Quixote (Leandro Perez) is the epitome of floating grace. In her third act pas de deux with Basilio she achieves spectacular stillness unsupported en pointe which leaves the audience gasping then roaring with admiration.

Leandro Perez dances the title role well, particularly in the second act pas de deux. He takes us back to the quesion, “What do men see?”, as he dances with Kitri (Viengsay Valdez) but sees Dulcinea his Loving Ideal (Carolina Garcia) who dances a mirror image back-to-back with Kitri. Like many men Quixote sees what he wishes to see. His chubby squire Sancho Panza (Javier Sanchez) is a faithful offsider and brings an earthiness to this idealistic journey, helping Don Quixote after his unfortunate brush with a windmill in the second act.

The choreography is by the Cuban National Ballet director Alicia Alonso after the original by Marius Petipa and the version by Alexander Gorsky. Alonso is a revered figure in Cuban ballet celebrating her 90th birthday this year. A video tribute to her precedes the performance.

The corps be ballet took a little while to get into the swing of things in the first act but their roles as gypsies and Dryads in the second act brought out the Latin flair which this company brings to the world of dance.

The Queensland Orchestra plays Ludwig Minkus’ score with passion under conductor Giovanni Duarte and Concert Master Warwick Adeney.

This ballet is well known to Australian audiences. In 1970 Sir Robert Helpmann danced the title role and persuaded Rudolf Nureyev to dance the role of Basilio in the Australian Ballet production. In 1972 they made the acclaimed film version in Melbourne’s Essendon Airport hangar over 25 days in sweltering 40 degree heat. That film helped to establish the Australian Ballet’s reputation among the world’s great ballet companies.

Who can explain the paradox that is Don Quixote and why this story still fascinates us four centuries on? We have a desperate need for old folk not to “go gentle into that good night”. But what good reason could there be for going crazy? Cervantes answers en pointe in this love-charged ballet:

“‘That’s exactly it,’ replied Don Quixote, ‘that’s just how beautifully I’ve worked it all out — because for a knight errant to go crazy for good reason, how much is that worth? My idea is to become a lunatic for no good reason at all.'”

Choreography by Alicia Alonso after the original by Marius Petipa and the version by Alexander Gorsky.

Music by Ludwig Minkus performed by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra with conductor Giovanni Duarte and Concertmaster Warwick Adeney.

Set and Costume Design by Salvador Fernandez

Duration: 2 hours 40 minutes with two intervals of 20 minutes

24th September until 3rd October 2010 at the Lyric Theatre, QPAC

— Matt Foley
(Performance seen: Thu 23rd September 2010)