|Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev of the Bolshoi Source Wikipedia|
The performance of Don Quixote which was streamed to my local Odeon last Wednesday has prompted me to think about the ballet generally and to ponder why it is not staged more often (see ¡Por favor! Don Quixote streamed to Huddersfield 17 Oct 2013). Lots of companies dance Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, Nutcracker and Giselle but not so may include Don Quixote in their repertoire. It is one of those ballets like La Sylphide that everyone has heard of but not actually seen. I have only seen one version of Don Quixote on stage and that was London Festival's at the Coliseum in the late 1960s or early 1970s. Dame Ninette de Valois tried to stage the ballet for what is now the Royal Ballet in 1950 but it does not seem to have been very popular.
Although the ballet takes its title from Miguel Cervantes's well known novel it is very much a Russian work (or perhaps, more accurately Eastern European as the score was contributed by an expatriate Austrian). It is one of Petipa's earliest works having been staged for the first time in 1869 and that may be one of the reasons. It provides scope for some brilliant dancing by the principals and soloists but it does take liberties with the novel. The ballet really ought to be renamed Basilio and Kitri for that is what the story is all about - a Hispanic Fille mal gardée with a touch of Carmen.
Save for the coda in the last Act, the music is not very well known. I had (and possibly still have) a vinyl LP somewhere which I bought from the old Ballet Bookshop in Cecil Court. Does anyone else remember that wonderful source of ballet memorabilia? I played that disc often when I was a student - particularly when I had an essay to write. The composer Ludwig Minkus wrote a lot of music for the ballet. After many years service at St Petersburg, Minkus returned to his native Vienna where he subsisted on a pension from Russia. That remittance ended with the First World War as the Austro-Hungarian empire and Russia were on opposite sides. He died in 1917, the year of the Bolshevik revolution, in very straightened circumstances. Having to cope with such circumstances poor old Minkus had more than a little in common with with Cervantes's creation.
From what I could see from the images that were streamed from Covent Garden, Carlos Acosta has reworked substantially the Petipa ballet. By dancing Basilio himself and casting another Marianela Nunez, another Latin American dancer, as Kitri he has reclaimed the work for the Spanish speaking world. As I said in my review, the screening left me dissatisfied. All the remaining performances of the ballet this season are fully booked. I hope Acosta's version stays in the Royal Ballet's repertoire rather longer than de Valois's because I should really ought to see it.