Left - Marc Cassidy. Photo - James Braund
Watching a video of Mikhail Baryshnikov dancing the role of Basilio in Don Quixote with American Ballet Theatre (ABT) was when the world changed for ballet dancer Marc Cassidy. Up until then, the teenager from a small New Zealand town was studying ballet with little purpose. But when he laid eyes on Baryshnikov’s Basilio, his reaction was, “Far Out!”
“It [Baryshnikov’s dancing] was pretty much everything that I aspired to be in [ballet]. That was the first real male dancing solo that I had seen with that sort of technical ability, strength and masculinity,” said Cassidy.
Cassidy was so taken by what he saw that he continued to watch Baryshnikov’s Basilio solos everyday for two years. (On a recent trip back home, he found the video and saw that the solos were warped from so much wear on the tape).
“It was like watching Bruce Lee…It had that same sort of impact. Ever since then, I have wanted to do that role.
“I had seen a lot of ballet like La Sylphide which had quite soft movement for male dancers. I knew there was another side to [ballet] but really hadn’t seen it,” said Cassidy.
While his initial exposure to Baryshnikov’s work was mind blowing, it frustratingly highlighted the lack of resources Cassidy had in New Zealand. “Seeing that solo and knowing what could be possible… [My teachers] were never going to push me into anything like that…To be a professional dancer I needed something else.”
After a two week scholarship at The Australian Ballet School, he enrolled the following year and has not looked back since. He has been in the company since 1994 and played a range of roles, but never, until this year, the role of Basilio. Having been off dancing for the past 18 months because of knee surgery, this starring role is even more special.
“I have been doing this ballet in my head for so long that when we started learning it, I kind of already knew it. I find picking up [steps] quite difficult. But because [Don Quixote] is so fresh in my mind, when we were learning it, it would just flow. It was already in my body, in a way,” said Cassidy.
The Australian Ballet’s Don Q (as it is lovingly nicknamed) owes its allegiance to another powerhouse male dancer, Rudolf Nureyev, a man whose skill equally inspires Cassidy.
The Australian Ballet has Nureyev’s version of Don Q in their repertoire and it is one of the company’s most often performed ballets. Its history dates to 1970 when Nureyev staged it here and Marilyn Jones and Garth Welch danced the lead roles. Two years later in 1972 a film version was made in a hanger at Essendon Airport in which Nureyev partnered Lucette Aldous.
Aldous, who is now based in Perth, has coached the company for three weeks for the current revival. “It was amazing having all the bits and pieces that Nureyev had passed on to her. It seems as fresh in her mind today as when she danced it,” said Cassidy.
Choreography shifts and changes through generations, but, according to Cassidy, AB Artistic Director David McAllister wanted to keep true to the original Nureyev choreography as much as possible. Inviting Aldous over to Melbourne to coach the company helped facilitate such nuanced reconstruction.
Cassidy has watched many Australian Ballet dancers such as Stephen Heathcote and Li Cunxin dance the role of Basilio and feels his personal version of the character and the ballet, as a whole, is influenced by all of them.
Add to that Baryshnikov’s inspiration imparted to him through repeated video-watching as well as the living spirit of Nureyev so alive within The Australian Ballet and Cassidy’s Basilio is undoubtedly in fine company.
The Australian Ballet
Composer Ludwig Minkus arranged by John Lanchbery
Choreography Rudolf Nureyev after Marius Petipa
Set design Anne Fraser
Costume design Barry Kay
Lighting Francis Croese
Brisbane: 22 – 27 February 2007
Melbourne: 16 -27 March 2007
Sydney: 5 – 26 April 2007