The Australian Ballet returns Rudolf Nureyev's Don Quixote to the stage in a somewhat dated but altogether delightful production.
The plot of the ballet will be distinctly clear to any theatre fans acquainted with the tale told by Cervantes in Man of La Mancha. Believing himself a knight errant, the deluded Don sets out with his trusty squire Sancho Panza to battle windmills and noblemen on his quest to find his fair Dulcinea.
Dulcinea in this case is actually the beautiful young Kitri, who seeks to run off with her lover Basilio rather than marry the pompous nobleman her father has selected.
There is no denying the rather impressive scale of Anne Fraser’s sets and Barry Kay’s costumes, but the overall look of the piece has seen better days. The opening backdrop, for the house of Don Quixote, looks particularly tired. The colour palette for the costumes effectively captures the Spanish vibe. Warm autumnal tones of act one eventually give way to festive reds and oranges of the final celebrations. While the rustling skirts of peasant girls and gypsies move with a satisfying whoosh, the sight of the tutu-clad fairies of Dulcinea's garden draws gasps of delight. This setting is also perhaps the most effective, with other scenery being well suited to the story but lacking the innovation and wow factor we have come to expect in recent productions.
Lana Jones commands the stage from the second she first appears, easily conveying Kitri’s presence as a popular young woman who is held in fond regard by the town. There is a feeling of joy throughout the entire company, and this radiates from none more strongly than Jones. Beaming with pleasure, Jones makes effortlessly light work of the role, achieving a distinctly feminine characterisation despite the strong athleticism required.
As if Daniel Gaudiello's dancing is not strong and beautiful enough already, he makes an additional art form of the subtle flick of his sleek long hair. Gaudiello deftly balances the passionate and playful aspects of Basilio to create an irresistibly sensual performance.
Strong individually, Jones and Gaudiello truly shine as a pair. Each final solo and pas de deux brought roars of approval from the enraptured crowd.
Steven Heathcote is luxury casting indeed in the title role. The most beloved and acclaimed male principal dancer of his generation, Heathcote has crossed the realm to character player, bringing great depth, nuance and dignity to the stage. Heathcote is ably supported by the comic turn of Frank Leo as Sancho. Matthew Donnelly adds to the character presence and humour as the haughty peacock Gamache.
The extraordinary depth of the talent pool at The Australian Ballet provides featured dancers of the supreme caliber of Principal/Senior Artists Amber Scott, Amy Harris, Reiko Hombo and Andrew Killian. The contribution of these dancers to the overall quality of the performance is immeasurable.
As matadors and gypsies, the male corps thoroughly enjoy the chance to have particularly masculine roles to dance. The female corps contrast their lively work as townsfolk and gypsies with their pristine appearance in Dulcinea’s Garden. A feature of the ensemble overall is their animated and engaging character work, which lifts the work far beyond a piece of drilled precision.
A couple of moments deserve special mention. Leo bravely trusts the men for a very cute sequence in which Sancho is tossed ever higher by the male ensemble. A brief puppet show in act two features precise and amusing work from children as puppets lampooning the story.
Special mention also of The Australian Ballet’s effort in putting together a stunning souvenir program, surely the most sumptuous of its kind in the world.
Finally, a plea to the Arts Centre and The Australian Ballet: Viewing pleasure for my row was rudely interrupted by four unwelcome latecomers. As a service to your loyal theatregoers, please lock out patrons who cannot be bothered arriving on time.
Photos: Jeff Busby