Magazine article The Spectator

Dance: Don Quixote

Magazine article The Spectator

Dance: Don Quixote

Article excerpt

Don Quixote

The Royal Ballet, in rep until 22 January

One feels the pang of impending failure whenever the Royal Ballet ventures like a deluded Don Quixote into a periodic quest to stage that delightful old ballet named after him. Twice in recent years has it tilted at the windmill and flopped back, dazed and bruised. It never remembers, though, and here it goes a third time.

A Spanish romp in the sun, with brilliant dancing, silly comedy and a happy ending, makes a perfect change from the usual Christmas Nutcracker , does it not? And nowadays, with such a substantial cohort of Cuban, Argentinian, Brazilian and Spanish dancers the Royal should be able to scorch the floor in required style, shouldn't it?

Carlos Acosta's production, new last year, is generous with warmth, but it's a mild English 20 degrees rather than a bright Castillian (or Havanan) 30. And this is one ballet that really should be off the scale for excess. A Don Q. production should be robust enough to get us spectators reaching happily for sangria no matter who the cast is, while acknowledging that it is all about rip-roaring pizzazz and megawatt dancing. The priority should not be 'a kind of realism', as Acosta gamely argues in the programme notes.

Don Quixote is one of three surviving evocations of hot foreign parts for icebound Petersburgers made by the Frenchman Marius Petipa, the long-serving balletmaster to the Tsars -- Ancient Egypt in The Pharaoh's Daughter , Spain here and India in the gorgeous La Bayadère . The last shares with Don Q. the compositional services of the ebullient Viennese waltz-obsessive Ludwig Minkus, and a chunk of Bayadère turns up in this Don Quixote , common enough in the old cut-and-paste ballet score convention but disconcerting nevertheless.

The sets by Tim (Spamalot ) Hatley are mostly great, especially Don Quixote's panelled study with his canopied bed, which collapses as he hauls off a bedpost to serve as his lance, and the town square of whitewashed houses under a bright blue sky. Then the houses start sliding around as if you'd had a few too many, which might be an empathetic point with the old Don's muddled wits.

There's also something pleasingly inebriated about the gigantic osteospermum flowers of the vision scene, where the concussed Don Quixote dreams of his fantasy Dulcinea. So what a pity that all this scenic curiousness is flooded with lighting as tepid as a Sussex afternoon in May.

Most of the corps costumes are pastel too. …

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