Don Quixote January 7th 2015 Royal Opera House

A relaxed atmosphere in the house for the evening’s Don Quixote, Acosta’s staging inspired by Petipa’s 1871-ish original. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza elope from reality into picaresque adventure and here find Kitri (Marianela Núñez) in a tiff with young local boy Basilio (Thiago Soares). Of course father wants her to marry a noble man. Noble man has the hots for Kitri. Cue farce, lively dances, a Keystone cop-ish chase caper and eventually, a marriage.

First the minus points, of which only a few. I realised I am no fan of simulated matadorism, people putting their index fingers to their foreheads and charging at brandished coats. I have seen ita lot in la Boheme, and I fail to be amused by it (I don’t know why.)  Here however, more fitting.

More noteworthy though,  I was not as impressed as I had hoped to be by Soares’ Basilio.  I am no expert but his form seemed a little loose in his solos. (He’s won awards though, so whadda I know). One can see Acosta’s body written in the steps he has given for Basilio, and perhaps not all dancers are as comfortable with its choreography.

I also, slightly oddly, didn’t get the vibe that he and Núñez were the real life partners they are, save a small impromptu “all good?” type of smile they traded in one Act 1 pas de deux, and an affectionate hand on her back as they were (literally) carted off into the sunset at the end of that Act.

There were too, too many “fishdives” for my liking. I get that they are showy, and they are probably mega-hard, but I’m not the biggest fan of them, they look a bit odd. I’d prefer the easy grace of a supported arabaesque or other, but this is a modern staging, and showy steps shouldn’t necessarily be excluded for their appeal, rather, it was just that the appeal felt a little over-egged, an appeal for appeal.

And now praise:

Núñez’s Kitri, the object of so much affection in the ballet is a perfect embodiment of (one type) of a dancerly ideal. As with many artists, her job is to make the difficult appear easy, which is of course, not easy. It is a particular kind of skill to carry off this illusion: Castiglione’s sprezzatura really should belong to ballerina.

Núñez’s is a lithe strength masked with limpid beauty and it is of course that beauty which defines the ballerina and her roles. Don Quixote gives her the perfect chance to display her most attractive qualities, chiefly a delightful stage presence and of course, great dancing.  Even her fingers and the position of her hands seem musical.

The ROH website spiel says Don Quixote and Sancho Panza meet ‘the vivacious’ Kitri. That she is, and the role becomes Núñez. I imagine that out of the “classic” roles, it is a bit of a dream for any modern female ballet dancer sick of swans and princesses. Núñez’s Kitri is full of impish humour. She is disdainful of the clamour of her suitors yet faithful to her father – to a point! All this comes through in her acting: a throwaway glance, a sly grin, this Kitri is sweet yet headstrong, and underneath, she’s a bit of a handfull!  Núñez is qually comfortable to play princess, bride-to-be and, (more of this later) pure ballerina and the odd point of humour is delivered well.

Marianela Nuñez in Don Quixote, The Royal Ballet © ROH/Johan Persson, 2013

Marianela Nuñez in Don Quixote, The Royal Ballet © ROH/Johan Persson, 2013

This evening, Ms Núñez also proved herself a trouper due to a mishap in the second act gypsy encampment scene. I am pretty sure it was Tomas Mock, replacing Eric Underwood and Lara Turk, together with Núñez and Soares who partnered each other in a pas de quatre. At the close of the solo the four bodies get quite close,  Turk and Mock got a little too close to Núñez and the result was a pointe shoe hitting Núñez quite hard on her right temple. The move completed, all were standing, and I could see Ms Núñez blinking in pain (or such was my impression). Coincidently, it seemed that the acting after calls for a measure of fluster which her unacted holding of hand to head conveyed quite effectively. She had a few minutes before her gorgeous Dream Sequence solo, and happily seemed generally none the worse for the incident.

Photographer unknown, please contact if you know so I might credit.

Kap-pow! The ultimate paradox: strength produces beauty.

Praise too to the guttersnipes and ragazzi who I cannot readily identify. These boys impressed in the Royal Ballet’s recent Manon with similar antics: tumbling, clowning, rumbunctiousness, all carried off winningly. Bravi, boys.

Yates and band did a fine job but let’s be honest, Minkus isn’t quite, I dunno, Stravinsky or Ligeti(?) and must be easy as pie to carry off for them. There were some nice solos from cello and violin, and the audience happily roared their approval at curtain for the band. (I did feel sorry for one poor girl though in second violins in front of a serried rank of trumpets who, at Sancho Panza’s out of tune trumpet call, actually plugged her ears and winced in preparation. Canny girl. I believe this, much like drops falls and pointe shoe mishaps, is an occupational hazard.)

Speaking of falls, one brief slip from Ms Romany Pajdak later, in Act 3 was well recovered. After Ms Pajdak and Yasmine Naghdi‘s solo, Ms Pajdak received genuine and warm applause for her “keep going!” attitude. As with the pointe shoe incident above, we like to see professionals keep going. I gather that the stage has claimed a few casulties (not least of whom Ms Osipova!) so I hope Ms Pajdak wasn’t too hard on herself afterwards as her appearance with Ms Naghdi brought colour and fizz to the proceedings and both danced with vibrancy and confidence.

Thus for Act 1, the oom‘s paah-ed and the cymbals crashed, castanets click-y clacked and tambourines got smacked lustily. Handclaps lusty cheers, ¡oles! and gusto from all, parts of which reminded me of West Side story’s rooftop scene for America (what can I say, my referents are skewed…) everything there to jimmy up Acosta’s frothy confection.

And Act 2 was to be confection par excellence. A friend told me (I, who was suffering slightly through lack of lots of classical steps…I know, get a grip right) that it was going to be more classical in tone, mainly due to the Flower Waltz. In this regard, it did not disappoint.

Chiefly this was due to the strength of the soloists concerned. Yuhui Choe impressed as always with the almost laser-like precision of her footwork. Her solo as Queen of the Dryads were lyrical and shone with gorgeous musicality. In each solo, confidence, smiles, surety of line. Poise.  I join the quietly murmuring ranks of those who think Ms Choe suitable for greater things within the Company. Certainly promotion from within would be a good thing.

(I share this sentiment.)

Meaghan Grace Hinkis’ Amour was another pleasant little interjection, her solos achieving an easy grace, all the better when dashed off with her dazzling smile!

Choe and Hinkis’s solo work was neatly framed by the Royal Ballet’s corps, though from my seat in Lower Slips Left, I found it tricky to take in the geometries and symmetries. Everything I saw was well danced though, and its beauty all the more effective as a contrast with the more realistic Gyspy scenes which immediately proceeded it

Happy the thought then to present this dream sequence as it appeared here, the intention to marry nostalgia and imagination with a classical vocabulary was effective. The purists can ooo and ahh, (and critique corps, line, form steps etc. as is their wont) general viewers like me can also ooh and ahh and get a taste of classicism to fit with any preconceptions of Swan-ish lines. I liked this scene a lot for all the points above. As Balanchine asserted, geometry is a beauty in itself. Beautiful congeries of beautiful women are their own raison d’etre.

The Royal Ballet - Yuhui Choe in Don Quixote. Photo: Emma Kauldhar by kind permission of the ROH

The Royal Ballet – Yuhui Choe as Queen of the Dryads in Don Quixote. Photo: Emma Kauldharused here without permission from Kauldharused or ROH…

If some Swan-ish looking lines in Act 2, then certainly Spanish ones in Act 3, where the classic divertissement dances come through, where flamenco skirts are waved around, fans fluttered and hands clapped in dashing fashion.

The grand pas de deux of Act 3 particularly effective, playing out in familiar “boy,  girl, boy and girl, oh-wow-boy-and-girl” fashion. Basilio and Kitri emerged in white outfits to die for, tiara, tutu, sequins galore – less Kitri and Basilio here and more Núñez and Soares as themselves in a “lets-get-down-to-business” mode, that business being to beguile and amaze. In this, they suceeded: casting off the vestments of their earlier characters, they had become almost archetypes.

Virtuosity then in the customary trick of  thirty-two fouettés, some doubled, some perhaps tripled which as intended garnered a great wave of applause, bows and curtseys nobly accepted our cheering and clamour and rightly so. Soares, Núñez both seemed well pleased with their efforts, or at least seemed so, because once the greasepaint is off who knows how these artistes think, feel and analyse the evening. All applauded heartily, and one hopes that is what matters most.

This was basically what everyone was thinking after Act 3.

The lady next to me gasped at Don Quixote’s horse when it came out (a lifesize straw armature on wheels, articulated so as to look like it was walking when pulled by actors). She gasped at Kitri and Basilio’s costumes in Act 3. She aww-ed at the horse like it was a real flesh and blood horse when Don Quixote rode off into his own legend. I liked the corps patting it affectionately (I got a bit misty eyed too, truth be told.) This lady was essentially expressing everything I felt but won’t admit to.

Verdict:

A colourful evening, lots of fun which I award 7.7/10.

Ballet-Snark:

Happily the snarkometer barely registered a reading this evening. Minor incidents: The lady to my left whispering about her destroyed back from leaning (we were in lower slips) also decided to open a plastic bag from her handbag, said extrication of which was protracted and thus infinitely more painful, for purpose I thought of eating Emergency Sandwiches (unconscionable) but this interpretation obviously false for, pleased to report, no munching, instead furtive rustling, sudden furtively victorious speed, the whole operation seemed to be for the end goal of the placement of something small inside her trousers(!!???!) (I’m saying nothing. God knows.) Her younger companion (daughter?) had Phone Itch, the garish blue haze of her phone popping into periphery every so often because young as she was, she has never worn a watch and a phone is the only way to tell the time. Attempts to shield glare were appreciated but unsuccessful. (The man in Ballo the other day more brazen. HIS watch illuminated with but a button press, and shone for all to see. Thus he knew the time but also broadcast his ill manners.) I did semi-educate the two ladies by disabusing their notion of a fouetté being a plie, by describing it is “a snappy sort of leg extendy turny thing.”) There was of course the Usual Scrofula Sufferer, who had come from deathbed to watch a show. A nice way to go out, I guess.
To the oo-ing aahing lady, apologies if I got in the way with my leaning.

PS: thanks to Ruth for pointing out Meaghan Grace Hinkis was Amour, not Emma Maguire.

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