For sixty years old, The Australian Ballet is looking pretty darn good. Opening its 2023 season with a sparky and energized Don Quixote, the company is in very great stead.
Not only is this reinvigorated production especially timely – it’s 50 years since Rudolf Nureyev filmed his version here in a hangar at Essendon Airport in 1973 – it's also extremely entertaining and performed with a genuine spring in all the many, many steps.
In a nod to its unique Australian cinematic history, opening credits roll, projected film-style, announcing cast and creatives and bring an extra sense of occasion to proceedings.
The revamp is based on Nureyev’s choreography and Ludwig Minkus’s music, (orchestration by John Lanchbery), with Sylvie Guillem credited as guest coach to the principals.
The set from the movie has been recreated by Richard Roberts (based on the movie sets by Barry Kay) with the buildings in muted cement tones, allowing the colours of rustling skirts and distant boat sails to really stand out.
Anniversary shows often run the risk of being stuffy or dated, but it’s the opposite here. Everything feels fresh and re-inspired, not least because the dancing, especially between leads Kitri and Basilio (and real-life couple) Ako Kondo and Chengwu Guo is on absolute fire. Even two hours in, when it seems they couldn’t do more, they are still meticulously pushing out multiple turns, hitting their lifts and relentlessly extending every line with a crisp attack, all the way to the finish line.
For all the cast, Don Quixote is a marathon for its excess of ensemble dancing, that draws from flamenco styles (with lots of clapping and rhythms), through to the more ethereal classical ballet geometry in Dulcinea’s Garden and many types of character/folk dances. The smorgasbord of choreographic offerings somehow comes together and doesn’t loose its flow.
There’s a slapstick theatrical element scaffolding the dancers in the characters of the hallucinating Don – played by a nearly unrecognizable Adam Bull, who brings a bumbling, disoriented energy to the acting role and his roly-poly side kick Sancho Pancho (Timothy Coleman). Most foppish of all is Ganache (Paul Knobloch), the crusty aristocrat that Kitri’s father wants her to marry.
But while some other ballets (like Harlequinade, presented in the company’s 2022 season) lean heavily on this physicality to progress the narrative, Don Quixote feels first and foremost about spectacular dancing.
Which is why it will always be timeless, as its long history and various incarnations have already proven through the centuries.
Opening night had excellent performances all around, from Sharni Spencer as Queen of the Dryads and Amy Harris as Street Dancer, through to the entire ensemble that kept up larger group sequences nearly non-stop, across elaborate and tricky footwork and combinations.
Entertaining and exuberant from go to woah and chock full of hearty dancing, this Don Quixote is worth seeing.
The Australian Ballet presents
Choreography Rudolf Nureyev
Venue: State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne
Dates: 15 - 26 March 2023
Venue: Sydney Opera House NSW
Dates: 8 - 25 April 2023