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A Homage to Nureyev

09/14/2023 -  & September 16, 23, 25, 29, 2023, February 15, 18, 25, 27, 29, 2024
Don Quixote
Rudolf Nureyev, after Marius Petipa (Choreography & Stage Director), Ludwig Minkus (music, arranged by John Lanchbery)
Liudmila Konovalova (Kitri, Dulcinea), Davide Dado (Basilio), Zsolt Tőrők (Don Quixote), Gaspare Li Mandri (Sancho Panza), Igor Milos (Lorenzo, Kitri’s Father), Jackson Carroll (Gamache), Olga Esina (Queen of Dryads), Wiener Staatsballett
Orchester der Wiener Staatsoper, Robert Reimer (Conductor)
Nicholas Georgiadis (Costume Designer), Marc Anrochte (Lighting Designer)

L. Konovalova, Z. Tőrők (© Wiener Staatsballett/Ashley Taylor)

The ballet Don Quixote has a particular connection to Vienna. Though the work is a Russian ballet premiered in 1869 in Moscow’s Imperial Bolshoi Theatre, the score’s composer Ludwig Minkus (1826‑1917) was himself a native of the Austrian capital who had immigrated to Imperial Russia to become the Composer of Ballet Music to the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatres.

The second connection is that the ballet was performed and revisited in 1966 in Vienna by the legendary Rudolf Nureyev, a few years after his defection to the West. Nureyev introduced elements of commedia dell’arte, enhancing the comic aspect of the ballet. It is in fact a recreation of this staging that the Wiener Staatsballett has presented.

Written after a minor episode in Cervantes’ picaresque novel El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha (1605), it recounts the love story of Kitri and the penniless barber Basilio. Kitri’s father, the innkeeper Lorenzo, wants her to marry Gamache, a nobleman. The young lovers escape and are pursued by Lorenzo and Gamache, followed by Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. They eventually marry, thanks to the help of Don Quixote.

The sets and costumes have aged extremely well and one can safely say this lavish production has stood the test of time. The colourful costumes are beautiful and their tones harmonious. The staging is tasteful and insightful: the corps de ballet is almost always present throughout the performance yet doesn’t clash with the primi ballerina. If the latter are the center of attention, the corps de ballet is present en relief in the background.

The beauty of Nureyev’s vision of the work lies in the blurring between reality and imagination, an ever‑provocative theme in both art and life. The naivety of the gauche Don Quixote is touching, adding humanity to a structured, even rigid art form.

Comic relief was provided in abundance by Sancho Panza, Don Quixote’s companion. Whether stealing a chicken, pursued by three matrons, or tossed in the air by the crowd, Italian dancer Gaspare Li Mandri added levity through his movements as well as through his grimaces. Canadian Jackson Carroll, the nobleman Gamache, was exceptionally expressive. The character calls for one who’s effete, and therefore lacking in appeal to Kitri. Carroll was so effeminate that one initially wondered whether he was a male or a female dancer. Nonetheless, there was no vulgarity or excess in his portrayal. Carroll seems to have a natural comedic verve. His gestures and grimaces were effective in making him ridiculous and even detestable.

Hungarian Zsolt Tőrők’s Don Quixote was dignified in contrast to Panza and Gamache. As the character is an old decrepit man, he hardly dances but he has ample stage presence to affirm the old knight’s dignity. Especially effective was the duel with the windmill scene where his effigy – rather than Tőrők himself, mercifully – is caught in the windmill’s spokes, flung into the air and abruptly dropped from a height.

Russian Liudmila Konovalova as Kitri and Italian Davide Dado as Basilio were a luxury in the leading roles. Both were remarkably graceful and they danced very well together. The Act III Grand pas de deux was a moment of grace that drove the public to delirium and justifiably so. Davide Dado, one of today’s top male ballet dancers, impressed with his grace, poise and brilliant technique, especially in his Act I Variations. However, he was disappointing in his Act III Variations. One expected much higher leaps. He seems to have opted for safe landings in this difficult segment. The usually discerning public, including his many fans, were uncritical of this choice and lavished him with applause. Star dancer Liudmila Konovalova was the ideal Kitri, graceful, stylish and mischievous. Her technique was impeccable and her “Fan Variations” in Act III the high point of the performance.

Needless to say, it’s rare to have the benefit of such a great orchestra in ballet. Robert Reimer led the Orchester der Wiener Staatsoper with panache and elegance. His attention to the music’s lyricism enhanced the beauty of the performance, especially in the duets between Kitri and Basilio. Likewise, he brought out the elegiac quality in the music of Don Quixote’s Act II vision of Dulcinea, stressing the pathos of this beautiful scene.

This was a remarkable performance, especially in light of Rudolf Nureyev’s contribution to the popularity of this work. It is laudable that the Wiener Staatsballett has opted to preserve this magical historic production, rather than introduce a “modern” vision, as many companies choose to do.

Ossama el Naggar



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