Friday, 15 April 2016

A Review of the Bolshoi Ballet's 2015-16 production of "Don Quixote" (1869)

I'm no ballet aficionado[1], so perhaps Don Quixote is ideal for someone like me - straightforward, uncomplicated, and infectiously fun. A little looked down upon by ballet critics ("twaddle" says Alistair Macaulay of the New York Times), it has a lightness of touch that one can imagine gives it the crowd-pleasing edge over weightier, but more critically appraised, works. In this particular instance of Don Quixote being performed as a three-act ballet at the Bolshoi in Moscow, it is precisely this sunny, summery colour which appeals most.

Loosely based on three chapters (19, 20 and 21) from the middle of Miguel de Cervantes' two-volume novel of 1605-1615, the Bolshoi Ballet's version retains a number of Spanish influences - from the bullfighting heel-clicks to the flamboyant dresses to the ever-present castanets, often deployed all at once, and most memorably in the beautifully done opening to Act II. While some may regard these affectations as cliched window-dressing, it's hard not to deny that the exuberance with which they are performed is very very hard not to get wrapped up in. Whether Renaissance marketplace cheer or post-postprandial courtly entertainment, wedding celebrations or gypsy knees-ups, the threatening menace of a forest by night or the ephemeral dryads in Don Quixote's dreams, the Bolshoi convincingly plunge its audience into a vast range of settings, ably complemented by phenomenal set and costume design. Some of the backdrop paintings are of such quality that they almost look like they've been thieved from museums.

Exuberant is a word worth repeating when it comes to this production. Lead dancers Ekaterina Krysanova and Semyon Chudin deliver extraordinary, virtuoso performances of ever-more-exquisite grace and elegance. By the time of their final curtain call, they were clearly more exhausted than some athletes are after an Olympic Games, and with good reason - the demanding moves of Don Quixote mean these dancers must give it their all, every night. Gamely they do so, and with such vitality, such fluent movement, that what has taken months to craft looks almost effortless.

That is the uniqueness of ballet, perhaps; that its characters, whilst performing on stage, look and seem far more real than we do. There is something about their heightened, dancing world - not for them the dullness of speech, nor any other mundane activity - which helps them transcend our far less colourful, far greyer lives, as if to uniquely represent, in the form of dance, the quickening of the human heart. It is no wonder that it is this ballet in which Don Quixote[2] himself is relegated to an audience member, a man wandering through various parts of Spain and coming across astonishing feats of creativity - such that on one occasion he mistakes a puppet show for the real thing, on other is convinced that windmills are giants[3], and finally dreams an entire Dryad sequence in the woods. He is a man with a hyperactive imagination, and surrounded by such visionary, transcendent sights as these, who can blame him?

[1] This word, incidentally, comes from the Spanish aficionar, "to inspire affection".
[2] With Quixote, Cervantes also gifted the English language with the marvellous word "quixotic". 
[3] This is, indeed, where our expression "tilting at windmills" comes from.

No comments:

Post a Comment