Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Don Quixote - Marinsky Ballet @ ROH, Wednesday 3rd August 2011

Driven by the vision of his ideal woman Dulcinea, the aging knight Don Quixote begins his adventures with his trusty squire Sancho Panza in tow.

Kitri, only daughter of Lorenzo, the village innkeeper, is in love with Basilio, the village barber.  Much to her chagrin, she learns of her father's plans to marry her to Gamache, a foppish nobleman. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza enter the village, causing great commotion. Noticing Kitri, Don Quixote wonders if he has, at last, found his Dulcinea. At the height of merriment, Kitri and Basilio, aided by their friends, Espada the toreador and Mercedes, sneak off followed by Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Gamache and Lorenzo attempt to pursue the young couple.

Don Quixote and Sancho Panza discover the fleeing couple hiding in a friendly gypsy camp. All are inspired by the romance of the night. As the vision of Dulcinea appears to him, Don Quixote realizes Kitri is not his "ideal", but indeed belongs with Basilio. Suddenly the wind gains momentum. Don Quixote foolishly attacks a windmill, believing it to be a giant threatening Dulcinea's safety. Caught up by one of its sails, he is thrown to the ground. Near death, Don Quixote has an enchanted dream of beautiful maidens in which the image of Kitri symbolizes his Dulcinea.

At sunrise, Lorenzo and Gamache manage to revive Don Quixtote. Sympathetic to the plight of the young lovers, the attempts to lead Lorenzo and Gamache astray.
Finally discovered, Kitri is forced by Lorenzo to accept the attentions of Gamache. The thwarted Basilio pretends to stab himself and Kitri implores Don Quixote to persuade Lorenzo to wed her to the "dying man” Instantly Basilio is restored to health! Triumphantly, Kitri leaves to prepare for marriage while Don Quixote and Basilio salute Lorenzo and Gamache for stoically accepting the inevitable.
The village celebrates the marriage. Don Quixote congratulates the couple, bids them a warm farewell, and resumes his ever-lasting adventures.
Don Quixote – Vladimir Ponomarev
Sancho Panza – Stansilav Burov
Kitri – Yevgenia Obratztsova
Basil – Andrei Timofeev
Gamache – Solslan Kulave
Espada – Karen Ioanissiyan
Mercedes – Anastasia Petushkova
Queen of the Dryads – Ekaterina Kondaurova

Creative Team:
Music – Ludwig Minkus
Choreography – Alexander Gorsky, Nina Anisimova, Fyodor Lopukov
Design – Alexander Golovin, Konstantin Korovin
Sets recreated by – Mikhail Shishlinanikov
Costumes – Konstantin Korovin

Again, this review is being written a while after the event for various reasons, so its necessarily cobbled together from memory. Apologies for this!

As other reviewers have pointed out, Don Quixote is, more or less, a plotless ballet, so there’s not much to do as regards concentrating on a plot. You just have to sit there and let it all wash over you. Basically, the ballet is just a bit of an excuse for pretty costumes and a lot of enthusiastic dancing in a vaguely Spanish style. We “saw” the Marinsky perform this version of the ballet a few years back, but thanks to some rather strange seats in the slips (at stage level but tucked off right at the side, could only actually see about a third of the actual stage) so it was nice to see what we had missed last time! We actually managed to see a lot more this time round, thanks to Him Indoors’ impulsive purchase of a pair of binoculars in Suffolk a couple of weeks ago – even from the very back row of the upper circle, I was able to see costumes, facial expressions and footwork in incredible detail and it was just like having your own private performance as a result. Nice – we must do it more often.

There is a slight air of somewhat faded elegance about the Marinksy productions, I find – almost as if the weight of history presses heavily on the company. This was most evident in the scenery, which was scrappy and thin, and really didn’t do the production any justice at all. I suppose that when you are touring 10 individual ballets, the costumes take priority in the cargo containers and the scenery has to be whittled down as a result. Some of it seemed to have been left behind on the jetty completely – the prologue to this ballet is usually set in Don Quixote’s cottage but here it was simply played out against a black backdrop. There is, however, no excuse for paring down the ballet itself – other productions I’ve seen have been far more detailed in the storytelling and characterisation, and I desperately missed all those little touches that would have fleshed the story out a bit. I also thought there was far too much “panto” – characters such as Sancho Panza and Lorenzo were overplayed well past the point of caricature. I suppose when you have to get the essence of a character over to the poor buggers sitting right at the back of an enormous theatre, some overplaying is acceptable, but I am convinced that Sancho Panza went right through the back wall and out into Covent Garden itself, if not Trafalgar Square.
I felt particularly sorry for the “hired in extras” who had been brought in to decorate the set and do nothing else but sit there all evening at the back of the stage. On second thoughts, however, perhaps I should feel envious of them – not only did they have a ringside seat but they were getting paid for it! And I suppose they could put on their CV that they “…played Don Estelle in the Marinsky Ballet’s production of Don Quixote”. Their placing on set was a bit strange; although for most of the evening they were reasonably well incorporated into the scene, in the final scene they were all plonked in a straight line right in the middle of the set where they looked very uncomfortable indeed, having to do “ballet arms” every time one of the principals approached. Watch old productions of something like Swan Lake and you’ll see many examples of this awfully outdated practice in the castle scenes – every time someone approaches, all the corps have to raise an arm in the direction of their approach and it looks very silly, very dated and very, very artificial.

Andrei Timofeev seemed rather miscast as Basil – when did you last see a blonde Spanish man? He also seemed somewhat slightly built and was completely outdanced by Yevgenia Obratzsova’s spirited and passionate Kitri. ”. I also thought Karen Ioannissiyan’s Espada was a little underpowered – it’s the plum role of the sexy, hypermasculine matador and needs to burn up the stage. But it didn’t. I completely failed to see the point of Maria Shevyakova’s Eastern Dance (which basically consisted of a lot of sinuous arm waving and not very much else) – it looked horribly like she had got her dates mixed up and had been expecting to do La Bayadere instead. By the time someone had thought to tell her, she must have thought “Bugger it – I’ve spent an hour warming up my arms and I’ve put all this make-up on so I might just as well go on and be a “Spesh Act”, because there’s nothing on the TV tonight and I can sit in the dressing room and bum some fags off the corps de ballet afterwards”.

Anyway, it was an enthusiastically received performance, the auditorium was bulging at the seams and everyone had a good time. I enjoyed peering through the binoculars at the costumes (unusually, all the corps costumes were individually designed, rather than being uniform, and this extra effort really paid off well visually, making it a treat to look at), but didn’t really see quite how £25 a seat could be justified when, on a dockside somewhere in Russia there are some enormous boxes marked “Scenery for Don Quixote”.

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