Thursday, 1 March 2018

A Day of Superlatives - Dutch National Ballet's Don Quixote

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Dutch National Ballet Don Quixote 28 Feb 2018 20:00 Music Theatre, Amsterdam

Wednesday was a day of superlatives. I don't think Amsterdam has ever looked lovelier than it did that night in the clear, crisp air with a full moon and the lights of the buildings, street lights and traffic twinkling in partly frozen canals and the river. I don't think I have ever seen a better Don Quixote even though I have seen artists like Isabella Boylston and Marianela Nuñez dance Kitri and Carlos Acosta dance Don Basilio. Above all, I don't think I have ever seen the Dutch National Ballet dance better.

One reason why I enjoyed that show so much was that nearly all the leading rôles were performed by dancers who graduated from Ernst Meisner's Junior Company.   Sho Yamada, who danced Don Basilio, had partnered Michaela DePrince in an extract of Diana and Acteon the first time I saw the Junior Company (see The Junior Company of the Dutch National Ballet - Stadsshouwburg Amsterdam 24 Nov 2013 25 Nov 2013). Riho Sakamoto was Kitri on Wednesday night. Jessica Xuan, who also joined the Junior Company in 2013, was queen of the Dryads. Yuanyuan Zhang, danced Juanita. Many more of their contemporaries including Cristiano Principato and Thomas van Damme supported them in the show,

Wednesday's show was their opportunity to impress and each of them grabbed it readily.  They danced with exuberance and verve.  Combined with imaginative sets that included a winking moon, costumes for ambulatory cacti and monsters more outlandish than Hieronymus Bosch's, the stage exploded with energy, movement and colour. Don Quixote had never been my favourite ballet because the story is so confusing.  Basically La Fille mal gardée except that it is dad rather than mum pushing daughter into an arranged marriage.  What has that to do with Cervantes? Or cactus men and beaked monsters for that matter?  The answer is "not much but who cares so long as the ballet flows".  Wednesday did flow to Minkus's jaunty score with spectacular choreography such as one armed lifts and daring fish dives. Ratmansky's production helped me understand the ballet and to appreciate it properly.

Yamada danced Don Basilio with style and swagger.  Tall, slender and athletic he commanded the stage.  Sakamoto charmed me with her coquetry and impressed me with her technique, especially with her fouettés in the final act. Though it is probably unfair to single out any artist for special praise, there were captivating performances by Xuan as queen of the Dryads, Suzanna Kaic as Cupid and Zhang as Juanita.  There was fine character dancing from Nicolas Rampaic as the slightly dotty Don Quixote and hilarious clowning by Frans Schraven as his squire.

I have already mentioned the imaginative sets and costumes.  I was not surprised to learn that they had been designed by Jérôme Kaplan who had impressed me several years ago with his designs for David Nixon's Gatsby. I have also mentioned Minkus's jaunty score.  Its interpreter on Wednesday night was Marzio Conti.  As I was seated directly behind the conductor only 5 rows back I experienced the music as he must have done. Perhaps that was yet another reason why I enjoyed the show so much.

Usually I come to Amsterdam for the day arriving on the first flight out of Manchester and returning on the last.  This time I had come to give a talk on patent litigation  at the Radisson Blu hotel in Russia.  Not really Russia, I should explain, but the street where the hotel stands is called "Rusland" which is Dutch for "Russia". On the way back from the theatre I felt transported to Petipa's Russia as I followed the frozen canals with the music resounding in my ears. That is just how I imagine St Petersburg to be.  One day, perhaps, I will find out whether I was right.

Talking of translations, a partner of the Dutch office of a leading international law firm invited me to dinner on Tuesday night at Hemelse Modder which translates as "Heavenly Mud".  The meal was scrumptious. I had croquettes of mussels, fennel and tarragon, lamb stew and a delicious lemon pudding with an excellent German red. I mentioned it on Facebook to which Ted Brandsen commented that it was his favourite restaurant.  I can quite see why.  It is now one of mine.   It is not far from the Music Theatre and I strongly recommend it.


  1. I had the privilege to see 3 performances of this DonQ myself on opening week and I was not disappointed. Dutch National Ballet is probably my favourite company at the moment and I can't wait for season 2018/19!

    1. How fortunate to see so many performances. I am so glad you like the production and that you share my admiration and affection for the company.