Left - Robert Curran and Lucinda Dunn. Cover - Lucinda Dunn and artists of The Australian Ballet. Photos - David Kelly
Ever since Rudolf Nureyev staged it here in 1970, Don Quixote has been a favorite staple of The Australian Ballet’s repertoire. Friday’s opening night performance marked the company’s 383rd performance of it. That’s a lot of practice at getting it right! That’s also a lot of different dancers playing the lead roles of Basilio and Kitri, many of whom have left their mark, in some way, on the current production.
In solid, energetic performances, Robert Curran and Lucinda Dunn both did the Don Q lineage proud. Curran, equally adroit at playful chivalry, mock death and the technical vigours of multiple turns in his Act Three solo, never missed a beat. Dunn, as the fiery Kitri, brought vigor to her role and retained the youthful and defiant zest of the character.
Like with many 19th century ballets, audiences must suspend their disbelief with a flimsy, incongruous narrative. Don Quixote (Joseph Janusaitis), and his side kick Sancho Panza (Mark Kay) set out on adventure, fueled by finding Don Quixote’s lost love Dulcinea. Instead they encounter Kitri and Basilio and intervene to save Kitri from an arranged marriage to the foppish old nobleman Gamache (Colin Peasley) so that she can be with her lover Basilio. Inspired by Cervantes’ novel Don Quixote, the story travels from the ports of Spain and the plains of the gypsies to a Russian inspired dream sequence.
Act II is probably the most eclectic, beginning with the gypsies in an earthy dance – open palms and nodding heads, big jumps that feel slightly jazzy, and ending with the formal patterns of much Romantic ballet in an extended dream sequence filled with dryads and their queen.
Timothy Harbour’s gypsy boy, decked out in purple tights, danced his solo with swashbuckling gusto, repeatedly leaping up and landing on the floor in a deep kneel. His energy never wavered and his physicality was sharp. The dryads, led by Queen Dryad Olivia Bell, had the rigorous precision and technique of the most formal of ballets, executing clean patterns and creating an ethereal ambience.
This version of Don Quixote sticks closely to earlier versions done by The Australian Ballet. Lucette Aldous, who partnered Nureyev when he danced here over 35 years ago, coached the dancers and the whole ensemble offers enthusiastic and clean performances. The orchestra, lead by Nicolette Fraillon, ably supports the company in their interpretation of Leon Minkus’s music.
The costume designs of Barry Kay and the set design of Anne Fraser, both from the 1970 production, are virtually untouched. The message here is don’t mess with a crowd pleasing classic that still has enough meaty and athletic dancing to challenge performers in 2007. With its popularity already tried and tested, Don Quixote is a safe, but, none-the-less entertaining, opener for The Australian Ballet’s year. If all the different casts are as solid as opening night’s, then Don Quixote should have a prosperous run.
The Australian Ballet
Composer Ludwig Minkus arranged by John Lanchbery
Venue: State Theatre, the Arts Centre
Dates: 16 -27 March 2007
Times: Mon @ 6.30pm; Tues - Sat @ 7.30pm (except Tues 27th @ 6.30pm); Matinees Sat @ 1.30pm
Bookings: 1300 136 166 or ticketmaster.com.au
Brisbane: 22 – 27 February 2007
Sydney: 5 – 26 April 2007