Review: Don Quixote; another triumph for the Royal NZ Ballet

Royal New Zealand Ballet
Don Quixote by Marius Petipa
St James Theatre, Wellington
March 4

New Zealand Tour
Christchurch March 11–14, Invercargill March 18, Dunedin March 21, Auckland March 26–29, Palmerston North April 1 

An ageing man making one last attempt at living out his youthful adventures sounds like the stuff of a Harrison Ford movie but the Royal New Zealand Ballet's latest production, Don Quixote, tells the tale of the bed ridden former adventurer he gets one more chance.

This is a restaging of former artistic director Gary Harris’ gloriously effervescent ballet Don Quixote, which has been restaged by Adrian Burnett and given additional fine-tuning by new artistic director Francesco Ventriglia.

The ballet is a celebration of the place of the elderly in our society who are able combine experience, idealism and dreams as they bumble through the pitfalls of life.

Don Quixote was one of the 50-odd ballets created by Marius Petipa in his time with the Russian Imperial Ballet and is a great example of that period of dancing. A storyline from a well known source, some set pieces for the premiere dancers, an integration of mime with dance and some display work by the corps de ballet which often had little to do with the plot line. Added to this was a good symphonic background with the music of Ludwig Minkus.

In this version of the ballet, Don Quixote is initially discovered dreaming of his past exploits, gambling and romances and particularly his great love, Dulcinea. When his nephew Sancho comes to visit him his desire for adventure is rekindled and mounting his trusty steed (actually a long handled mop) and taking a bundle of money they set out.

In a Barcelona square they encounter the locals who include the sexy Mercedes and her foppish pimp Gamache, who spots the Don’s bag of money.

Here they also chance on the young lovers, Kitri the landlord’s feisty daughter and the local delivery boy Basillo for whom the landlord has no time.

When the couple elope, the Don who believes Kitri to be his Dulcinea follows, along with his nephew. They in turn are followed by Gamache and Mercedes, who are after the money.

They all end up at a gypsy camp where the lovers are threatened and abused. The Don is assaulted and Gamache makes off with the money.

There is a dream sequence where the Don encounters storms and windmills and is presented with a chorus of Driads by a cute camp cupid. This is the opportunity for some beautifully staged formal white tutu dancing showing the corps de ballet's strengths with superb timing.  Clytie Campbell as the Queen of the Driads gave a performance full of elegant display, control and sophistication.

MacLean Hopper as the darting cupid was an ideal foil to the elegant corps de ballet with his sprightly, highly energetic dancing.

After that, it’s back to the Barcelona square where Gamache is apprehended and the Don gives all his money to the young Basilio, who is then allowed to marry Kitri.

As Kitri, Mayu Tanigaito gave an outstanding performance right from the beginning, with a nimble, coquettish display, slowly developing a more graceful and full-bodied romantic approach as the story progresses.

In several of her solos and pas de deux, she gave a sense of effortless and controlled dance, with the final act providing an opportunity for a whirlwind of inspired dancing.

Kohei Iwamoto as Basilio was an ideal companion to Mayu Tanigaito, with some dazzling, supple dancing, electrifying leaps and convincing acting. There were a couple of times, however, when his face became a little too rigid and arms quivered a bit as his concentration on supporting Tanigaito slipped as he focused on the job rather than the emotion.

Abigail Boyle dancing the part of Mercedes  brought a sense of self empowered sensuality to the role and her lively dancing with Gamache made it clear who had the real power in that relationship.

Her full-bodied alluring dancing provided a contrast with the more romantic and precise dancing of Mayu Tanigaito

While all of the dancing in the Act I Barcelona square was of high standard, much of it seemed merely a chance for variations on a theme – waiters, sailors, matadors and assorted women folk having a good time. By contrast the Gypsy Camp sequence was a particularly well choreographed sequence, relevant, strong and violent which contrasted well with the pretty dancing of Tanigaito and Iwamoto which preceded them.

Harry Skinner as the Chaplin-like Lorenzo gave a great comic performance flustering around the stage like the great comedian but he also showed a remarkable agility in his celebratory dancing in the last act.

Paul Mathews as Gamache in gaudy attire gave a delightfully dodgy performance and his act IV drunken, macho display was a comedic treat.

Shane Urton as Sancho the nerdy nephew also gave a great comic performance, with split second timing, to thwart Gamache and Mercedes.

John Hull as the Don gives a performance  more mime than dance but his every movement was finely observed as he moved effortlessly about the stage seemingly ready to launch into dance at any moment.

Throughout the ballet there are short colourful sequences. One in particular, which got the audience in the mood was the opening number features two cleaning ladies (Adriana Harper and Bronte Kelly) who rummage around the Don’s bedroom, providing a hint of the mayhem to come

The delightful opening set for the Don’s room piled high with books and memories provided a sombre setting, contrasting with the candy coloured Barcelona square which gave the ballet a cartoon-like feel.

Orchestra Wellington under Nigel Gaynor provided an excellent accompaniment with a performance that never imposed on the dancers.

John Daly-Peoples has a relative on the board of the RNZB