Extravagant and exuberant: Dutch National Ballet in Don Quixote

Muziektheater, Amsterdam
February 13, 2018

Maggie Foyer

The popularity of Don Quixote with ballet fans is largely due to the constant flow of virtuoso dance, the village square is full-on ‘Strictly’ as each number tops the last. Despite the iconic status of Cervantes’ novel, Petipa extracted only a slender plot line for his three-act ballet but it is sufficient to build a narrative that rattles along at a brisk pace to the clatter of castanets and the swirl of toreadors’ cloaks. Ludwig Minkus, for all his lowly status in the music world, can be relied upon to come up with a good melody and contributes plenty of lively tunes with a Spanish flavour.

Alexei Ratmansky’s production, premiered in Amsterdam in 2010, was meticulously researched in the Bolshoi archives. He gives greater prominence to the roles of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, notably giving full value to the opening scene to establish the characters. The roles were created by Karel de Rooij and Peter de Jong, two Dutch musical clowns, better known as Mini & Maxi, who raised the comedy to high art. They are a hard act to follow but Nicolas Rapaic as the Don invests the role with aged dignity tinged with contained madness while Frans Schraven enjoys the high camp of his luckless servant.

Maia Makhateli in Don QuixotePhoto Marc Haegeman
Maia Makhateli in Don Quixote
Photo Marc Haegeman

Maia Makhateli, a firm favourite with Amsterdam audiences is a feisty Kitri, flirting boldly and never doubting that she will ultimately get her own way. With no fear of the technical challenges, she spun through the thirty-two fouettés and found time to jingle a tambourine at the top of a high lift.

The role of Basilio gives Daniel Camargo the chance to display his huge dance talent, enhanced by a roguish attitude, boyish charm and a neat sense of comedy when the opportunity arises. His instincts are perfectly honed: he can correct an off-kilter pirouette mid-turn giving an extra thrill to an exciting outcome, and this is just what the ballet needs.

Nicolas Rapaic in Don QuixotePhoto Marc Haegeman
Nicolas Rapaic in Don Quixote
Photo Marc Haegeman

In Act Two, Ratmansky augments the Don’s dream, resurrecting a nightmare scene where he tangles with devils and dancing cacti. It seems hardly worth the effort, but the vision scene with mythological overlap, is given full value. Sasha Mukhamedov, an authoritative Queen of the Dryads gave a strong rendition of the famous solo while Makhateli displayed all her lyrical qualities in Kitri’s gentler variation. However, the star of the scene was the effervescent Aya Okumura, whose performance as Cupid was pure magic. She took the perky little solo at top speed, still finding time to punctuate the pauses and loving every second. Vito Mazzeo, as Espada, also found himself a tailormade role, hitting the right pitch between arrogance and irony and looking dead rotten gorgeous in his stylish costume.

The designs, by Jérôme Kaplan, are exuberant while never losing their classic finish. His sense of colour is distinctive; with interesting contrasts in a vibrant mix and enhanced by the couture cut. I love the extravagance of his Kingdom of the Dryads fantasy world and the fiery sky in the last act, if a little over-the-top, matches the heat and energy of the wedding celebrations.

The grand pas de deux lived up to its promise with solos from Jessica Xuan and Yuanyuan Zhang, two of the brightest rising stars, offering a refreshing sorbet between the high drama of the principal variations where Makhateli and Camargo seized their moment of glory.