Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Bolshoi's Don Quixote

Honoré Daumier's Don Quixote
Source Wikipedia

Bolshoi Ballet, Don Quixote, streamed live from Moscow, 10 April 2016

It is very easy to enjoy a performance of a ballet one loves. It is very much harder to enjoy a performance of a ballet to which one is indifferent. A good test of a company is whether such indifference can be overcome by the quality of its performance, Yesterday, by its performance of Alexei Fadeyechev's Don Quixote, the Bolshoi Ballet passed that test.

The reasons why Don Quixote has never appealed to me despite such choreographic pyrotechnics as Kitri's fouettés, Basilio's one handed lifts and fish dives are that the story is weak and except for the final pas de deux the score is undistinguished.  The libretto, which owes very little to Cervantes, is not very different from La Fille mal gardéea much shorter, tighter and generally more entertaining work with its clogs and dancing poultry and Alain swept into the storm by his umbrella. Instead we have some dryads who, despite their prettiness, are something of an irrelevance as they interrupt the flow of the story.

What saved the ballet for me were primarily the performances of Ekaterina Krysanova and Semyon Chudin as Kitri and Basilio which were outstanding. There were also strong performances by Denis MedvedevAnna Tikhomirova and Kristina Karasyova as Gamache, the street dancer and Mercedes.  There was some great character dancing by Alexei Loparevich as the Don, Roman Simachev as his squire and Andrei Sitnikov as Lorenzo.  If we must have dryads in this ballet, there could be no more delightful dryad queen than Olga Smirnova.  Other aspects of the show that I liked were the sets by Valery Leventhal, particularly the townscape in the first act and the windmills in the second. I also admired Elena Zaitseva's costumes.

The Royal Ballet now has its own version of Don Quixote which was staged by Carlos Acosta. I have not yet seen it on stage but I reviewed the HDTV transmission from Covent Garden in ¡Por favor! Don Quixote streamed to Huddersfield 17 Oct 2013.  I was somewhat underwhelmed by that production too and tried to work out why in More Thoughts on Don Quixote 29 Oct 2013. I can't decide whether I prefer the Fadeyechev version or Acosta's. On the whole I incline towards Fadeyechev who has simplified the work and improved its flow by cutting the tavern scene though he has included elements like the guitar dance and bull fighters without a bull that add nothing to the story.

Fadeyechev was interviewed in the first interval by Katerina Novikova who presents all the Bolshoi's transmissions.  Elegant and fluent in English and French she is a great asset to the company and one of the reasons why I have generally preferred the Bolshoi's transmissions to the Royal Opera House's. Fadeyechev spoke about those inclusions and the music of other composers that has been added to the score which are said to be unique to the Bolshoi.

Novikova also interviewed Makhar Vaziev who is described on the Bolshoi's website as "Ballet Director." He has recently taken over that job title from Sergei Filin who remains with the company as the "Director of Young Artists Ballet Program" though it is not clear from the articles by Ismene Brown Bolshoi abolishes Filin’s job 30 July 2015 Arts Blog and Makhar Vaziev appointed Bolshoi ballet head 26 Oct 2015 Arts Blog what either man's job description will be. Tactfully Novikova avoided that question and asked Vaziev about the differences between the Mariinsky where Vaziev started his career and the Bolshoi which he joined three weeks ago. Vaziev, who seems to be quite a jovial chap, replied that they both had their pluses and both had produced great artists. Galina Ulanova had started in St Petersburg and Maya Plisetskaya in Moscow. For those who are interested in that question, a more detailed answer is given in The Bolshoi Ballet (12 Aug 2010) by The Ballet Bag.

As the Bolshoi are coming to London between 25 July and 13 Aug 2016 (see Bolshoi Ballet Diamond Jubilee) I have found this season's HDTV season particularly useful for selecting what to see (see Live Performances streamed from the Bolshoi and Covent Garden 20 Sept 2015). If I lived in London and had all the time in the world I would have chosen to see all five shows. As I live 200 miles away and have a demanding albeit rewarding full time job I have to confine myself to two. I have chosen to see Swan Lake on 30 July 2016 and The Taming of the Shrew on the 3 Aug 2016. Even though booking has been restricted to Friends of Covent Garden many of the best seats for both shows seem to have been taken. I am not sure how many tickets will be left for the public when the tickets go on general sale later today.


  1. Thank you for your interesting notes on the Bolshoi's new DonQ. I have booked all 4 performances at Covent Garden(!!) so hopefully will enjoy it. You are right about seat choices not much left when I got to book:-(
    You would have been thrilled with DNB's Best of Balanchine on Sunday - we had the treat of Michaela de Prince and Young Gyu Choi dancing Tarantella - woohoo!
    Best Wishes SA

    1. Thanks for your report on the Best of Balanchine, Helen. Michaela DePrince and Young Gyu Choi are two of my favourite dancers. There is a lovely photo of Young Gyu Choi and feature on him on this months Friends' magazine for the Dutch National Ballet. I think there are actually 5 shows coming to London: Don Quixote, Flames of Paris, Le Corsaire, Swan Lake and Taming of the Shrew. Personally I would have liked to have seen some of the ballets that are never performed here but it will be nice to see them whatever they dance.