A sparkling triumph: Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Don Quixote

Sadler’s Wells, London
July 6, 2022

Carlos Acosta brings the Birmingham Royal Ballet back to the company’s birthplace, Sadler’s Wells, in a production of Don Quixote that can rightly be called a triumph. Cuban born and trained, Acosta has an instinctive affinity with the exuberance of this Hispanic ballet: the dance was virtuosic, the speed incendiary and the vitality never flagged.

Less expected was the depth given to the lightweight story. Tom Rogers as the Don held a central role. The sincerity of his performance and the diligent direction that presents him as a dignified, if delusional, old nobleman, greeted warmly by townsfolk and gypsies alike, gives the production a welcome cohesion.

Mathias Dingman as Basilio and Momoko Hirata as Kitri
in Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Don Quixote
Photo Johan Persson

But, of course, we go to see Don Quixote for the dance and a scintillating cast saw that there was no disappointment on that score. Momoko Hirata and Mathias Dingman, as Kitri and Basilio, lived every moment of the story, teasing and flirting between the high-speed choreography. Hirata’s solo was a burst of fireworks, with Dingman contrasting with a touch of nonchalance.

Come Act 3, and they responded with Grand pas elegance, dressed in sparkly white their technique showing crystal-cut clarity. Hirata took the opening of her solo at a playfully measured pace building the anticipation for a set of perfect fouettés in the coda while Dingman displayed power on the big lifts and jet-propelled leaps.

Momoko Hirata as Kitri
in Carlos Acosta’s Don Quixote for Birmingham Royal Ballet
Photo Johan Persson

The Dryad scene brought more surprises. Hirata displayed her versatility as a lyrically beautiful Dulcinea utterly enchanting the Don who was in his seventh heaven in the midst of such beauty. Yu Kurihara achieved a similar transition from a sultry Mercedes in Act 1 to a regal Queen of the Dryads in Act 2.

Well in keeping with current trends, Acosta transforms the usually feminine Cupid to a masculine Amour. Tzu-chao Chou has stamped his mark on this extraordinary solo. He executes the fastest double saut de basque on the planet and turns like the proverbial top and all with a mischievous smile in a five-star performance.

A swirl of cloaks signals the arrival of star matador, Espada danced by Brandon Lawrence with a glorious jeté, and easy charm. Amazingly, this production holds balance between these huge talents with Lawrence adding to the cream on the top.

Kit Holder as Sancho Panza and Tom Rogers as Don Quixote
Photo Johan Persson

Kit Holder as Sancho Panza is a joy, his ebullient bounce-back nature keeping him on the right side of victimhood. Gamache played by Rory Mackay is a fop in gaudy costume. He also has the fighting spirit and wins a girl in the end but while played for laughs, he creates a more realistic figure. Jonathan Payn as Lorenzo, inn keeper and father of Kitri, is another of the smaller roles given a lively, honest interpretation.

A clever video, by Nina Dunn, turns the windmill sails into sinister arms while Tim Hatley’s set and costume designs complement the dance-packed production. They frame the action, leaving plenty of space for dance and giving an ambiance of rural Spain before a successful transition to a magic tree of wispy fronds for the Dryad dream.

Carlos Acosta’s Don Quixote for Birmingham Royal Ballet
The Garden of the Dryads featuring Momoko Hirata
Photo Johan Persson

The costumes are a delight. The halter-neck bodices that works so well on the frilled dresses are also used on the tutus giving a dramatically different line that displaying the dancers’ backs exquisitely; so right for Don Quixote. The toreadors, gypsies and townspeople are colourful and effectively costumed and danced with total commitment. I feel the scene at the gypsy encampment could be a little trimmed as could the amount of dance in Act 1 but this is well placed in the rankings of best Don Q around.