Don Quixote – Review – Leeds-Bradford Odeon (Satellite Screening)
By Sandra Callard, February 2019
Oh the thrill of it! The Royal Ballet at Covent Garden presenting a new production of the world-famous book by Cervantes streamed live at a local cinema. This brilliant concept is a chance for the provinces to see London ballet at its absolute best, performed in the most glorious setting – and all just a ten minute drive away.
But alas, the ballet of Don Quixote was shown in the smallest cinema the complex has, and the place was only a quarter full, which immediately dulled the atmosphere. However, the show’s the thing and on it came, but then only after a fifteen minute interview with the conductor of the orchestra. Indeed, an interview with various people was shown before each subsequent Act. This was unnecessarily time consuming for an already long production and not really of any great interest, except perhaps for hardcore aficionados.
Don Quixote, played (but not danced) by Christopher Saunders, and his servant Sancho Panza, played (and somewhat danced) by Philip Moseley, thrash out their plan to set off on a journey of chivalric proportions, to do good and save beautiful ladies. Don Quixote is generally thought of as an aristocratic but personable and likeable do-gooder who is slowly losing his grip on reality. Saunders does indeed touch on these traits, but we generally see a wandering soul who is slightly irritating and appears to do absolutely nothing. Even Quixote’s famous ‘tilting at windmills’ story, quite rightly and necessarily included, is an unforgivable failure.
However, this production has a raft of celebrated artisans and the first act is certainly full of life, colour and high-quality dancing, mainly and fabulously from Akane Takada (Kitri) and Alexander Campbell (Basilio). Their grace and skill is gloriously apparent as they present ballet at its most fervent and ecstatic best. Campbell is a beautifully artistic performer, and is as sure-footed as a gazelle as he lands on the stage with infinite precision. The plot settles, the lovers are parted, the villagers have fun, and the superb dancing continues.
Act Two is mainly between Quixote and a Corps de Ballet of numerous ballerinas wearing the totally traditional and quite beautiful tu-tu, a sparkling concoction of tiny stiffened circular skirt not often seen nowadays. They dance before Quixote then depart – and it is flawless. They return and dance again for him, and again and again, ad infinitum. Quixote watches in wonder and stretches his hands towards them each time they appear. This constitutes roughly eighty percent of the long second act.
The third act is vivid, colourful and noisy as the lovers reunite and Quixote continues his quest on his poor old straw horse, which none-the-less adds a wonderful touch of pathos and reality to the scene.
If you detect a touch of disappointment in my review thus far you would be correct. It felt quite bizarre that the Covent Garden patrons in London reacted with uproarious applause, while the lesser audience in the cinema in Yorkshire reacted in a kind of sad silence. Ours was not an audience of novices who were seeing ballet for the first time, few though we were. It was apparent that they had knowledge of the genre, but were disappointed with the lack of originality, the sameness and trying length of the routines, and the bland characterisation of the eponymous hero.
A meticulously made show, but missing something integral. Did it become lost in cinematic translation? Whatever, sometimes perfect dancing is just not enough.
images: Johan Persson (unless stated)