Royal New Zealand Ballet
Designer: Gary Harris
Choreographer: Adrian Burnett
Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra
ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre
Thursday 26th March
“Somewhere in La Mancha in a place whose name I do not are to remember, a Gentleman lived not long ago, one of those who has a lance and ancient shield on a shelf and keeps a skinny nag and a greyhound for racing…”
Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes
Back onstage for the first time since 2008, the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s Don Quixote (pronounced don key-oh-tee) is an entertaining and colourful romp. The ballet’s Designer, and ex-Artistic Director Gary Harris, aimed to make a version of the classical ballet that would showcase the company’s storytelling, comedic and dancing skills. He wanted the setting to be “almost cartoonish, like something you might find in the pages of a child’s comic”, and designed the unconvential set in the pop culture palette of 1950s Spain. The result is a stunning piece of theatrical staging – hot, bright and vivid. The square in Barcelona is gloriously colourful and gives the ballet a fresh, modern feel. Harris also devleoped the role of the loveable Don Quixote – in this version he is entranced by de Cervantes’ books – perhaps imagining himself as the protagonist of the classic narrative.
Choreographer Adrian Burnett maximes the use of the sometimes-restricted stage space with energetic corps choreography, and pleasingly maintained interpretations of the well-loved variations within the ballet. Don Quixote, first created in 1869 by Marius Petipa, is a solid, five act classical narrative ballet. These ballets provide solo parts, known as variations, that remain generally unchanged between productions of the ballet. They are performed by the company’s strongest or most senior dancers, and are a showcase of their virtuoisty and artistry. Ballet fans wait with great anticipation for Kitri’s 32 fouettes (a sequence of ‘whipped’ pirouettes on one leg) in Act III.
On opening night, company dancer John Hull recreates the role of the hapless Don, his performance gathering momentum during the course of the ballet. Having seen the RNZB’s 2008 production with Kiwi treasure, Sir Jon Trimmer, in this role, I found it hard not to draw comparisons bewteen the two interpretations. Harry Skinner is delightfully energetic and full of comic rage as Kitri’s Father, maintainin a successful blend of the pompous and the ridiculous. Loughlan Prior, who chatted to What’s Good Blog earlier in the year, stands out as a tall, elegant Waiter/Matador in Acts I & III, and a Gypsy in Act II.
Abigail Boyle is beautifully cast as the wily Mercedes again for his production. This is perfect casting for her, and the audience responds enthusiastically to her performance. Boyle is technically strong, and naturally gorgeous on stage. The lovely thing about this production of Don Quixote is that it highlights her perfect and detailed comic timing, and her superb awareness of the requirements of the consumate stage performer. Clytie Campbell gives an assured and commited performance in her dual roles as Kirtri’s Friend and Queen of the Driads (a tree nymph or female spirit). Her expressive detail and attack impress me throughout the evening. Paul Mathews’ Gamache is similarly sustained and entertaining, and Adriana Harper’s Lead Gypsy shows sass and fire.
In a classical ballet, however, all eyes are on the principal roles of the young couple, Basilio and Kitri. Kohei Iwamoto gives a strong performance, with particularly impressive elevation during his variations in Act III. Some moments of pas de deux (partnering) needed more clarity, but overall it was a pleasing performance. The knockout performance of the evening, however, belonged to Mayu Tanigaito as Kitri. During the first intermission, a friend remarked to me “sparks are flying left, right and centre tonight!”, and I completely agree. Tanigaito brings a sweetness and sincerity to the traditionally stroppy character of Kitri, while at the same time expressing her infectious love for dancing with the audience. Her sustained balance en pointe is effortless and impressive, and her extensions are flawless. What really knocked my socks off was her ability to elevate. For a very small dancer she jumps with the height of a boy and captures that elusive quality of ballon (appearing to weightlessly pause in the air at the height of a leap) that changes the entire quality of the performance. Tanigaito is surely a dancer to watch closely in the coming years.
For a thoroughly entertaining evening out, complete with the exquisite Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, you can’t go past Don Quixote. It’s a ballet with all the right ingredients; technique, tutus, humour and vivacity. Plus, there are two intermissions, so plenty of chance to enjoy a beverage if you’re so inclined.
Gold Stars: 4.5/5