Don Quixote, Bolshoi Ballet, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, August 2010Posted on 7 August 2010
This thrilling spectacle of classical dance was first performed at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow in 1869, choreographed by Marius Petipa, who had just become artistic director of the Maryinsky Ballet in St. Petersburg. More than twenty years earlier he’d spent three years in Spain and learned to love Spanish dance — much celebrated in this ballet — though he left Spain rather suddenly to avoid a duel against a French marquis, a member of the French embassy, with whose wife he’d been having an affair. Petipa was quite a lad as a young dancer!
Don Q was revised by Alexander Gorsky in 1900, the year he became manager of the Bolshoi, and is a staple of their repertory. In fact it’s arguably their jewel in the crown, endowed with a mass of glorious costumes, and sets that allow ample room for the ballet’s choreographic pyrotechnics, which were on brilliant view here.
The main roles were danced by Ivan Vasiliev and Natalia Osipova, who were spectacular three years ago when the Bolshoi came to the London Coliseum. At that time Vasiliev was a mere 18 and Osipova 21, so both are still very young, and this time they were even more sensational. They are stars of the first magnitude. Not only can Vasiliev do corkscrew turns at 45 degrees and land perfectly into a half-kneeling position, he dances absolutely on the music. So does Osipova and her fouettés en tournant were superb, with repeated doubles, and even a triple. These two dancers have the flamboyance and technical wizardry that this ballet requires, and the one-hand overhead lift, with both dancers in arabesque, was quite remarkable, particularly when Vasiliev went up on demi-pointe at the end of it. They have to be seen to be believed, and it’s no surprise that on the way home, carrying a programme, I was greeted by other audience members saying, “Wasn’t that amazing!”
Vasiliev and Osipova were out of this world, but they were only part of the story, and the whole company did a superb job. Just to mention a few, I thought Alexei Loparevich was wonderful as Don Q himself, and in the gypsy dance of Act III Anna Antropova was extraordinarily supple and admirably musical. Nina Kaptsova was an excellent Cupid in Act II, and Olga Stebletsova and Victoria Osipova were very good as Kitri’s friends in Act I, as was Anna Balukova as Mercedes. It’s difficult to apportion praise accurately because the cast-list was a little confusing — the main couple in the Act III Spanish dance were presumably two of the three people listed, but which two? I hope the Bolshoi improve the casting information on their next visit.
The other problem was the music. This is great stuff by Minkus, only overshadowed later when Tchaikovsky came along, but the conducting in Acts I and II was a bit lifeless — I’ve heard excerpts from Act I done far more vivaciously by pianists in ballet class. The cast-list showed Pavel Klinichev as the conductor, but at the end of Act III, which was musically far better, the conductor who took the bows was Pavel Sorokin. When he conducted Don Q three years ago, he filled the music with vibrant energy, so did they switch conductors for Act III? Puzzling. Some people say they come for the dance not the music, but for dancers who are very musical — and Vasiliev and Osipova are certainly in that category — the conductor makes quite a difference.
Finally, dancing and music aside, this is a wonderful production of Don Q, with very effective designs by Sergei Barkhin. The costumes, based on sketches from 1906 by Vasily Dyanchkov, realised by Tatiana Artamonova and Elena Merkurova, are glorious, with fine lighting design by Mikhail Sokolov.