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20 October 2023

Don Quixote brought to life

Carlos Acosta’s playful and fiery take on the 1869 ballet is a joyful marriage of movement and music.

By Zuzanna Lachendro

Despite the title, Don Quixote only makes a brief appearance in this revival of Carlos Acosta’s 2013 take on the 1869 ballet. Only loosely based on Cervantes’s epic 17th-century novel, it tells the story of Kitri and Basilio (Fumi Kaneko and William Bracewell) – a young couple who fall in love, to the dismay of Kitri’s father, the innkeeper Lorenzo. Attempting to secure his daughter’s future, Lorenzo wishes for her to marry a rich but vain nobleman, discrediting Basilio, a poor barber, as a potential suitor. It’s Don Quixote (Christopher Saunders) who attempts to help the couple marry – as the plot meanders through an array of slapstick sequences, flamboyant costume changes and comic characters.

Acosta, the Cuban-British director of the Birmingham Royal Ballet and a retired dancer himself, has produced a version of the ballet full of playful and fiery pas de chat and grand jeté sequences. Ludwig Minkus’ original score – with Iberian influences and lively castanets – transports us to southern Spain, with help from the set design and traditional Andalusian feria costumes. The vivacious first and third acts are performed exuberantly by a large troupe of dancers – though the principals and soloists are at times lost in the flurry of movement.

Marius Petipa’s original choreography is most evident in the second act: as the score slows the pace and the scenery becomes more fantastical and the stage is washed in blue light (suggesting Don Quixote’s slide into delirium). The zeal of the previous act melts into classical and more technically demanding movements.

The comic nature of the ballet has not only been retained but intensified in this adaptation – as evidenced by the laughter among audience members young and old. Acosta has amplified the whimsy of this spirited, light-hearted production – itself a joyful marriage of movement and music.

Don Quixote
The Royal Opera House, London WC2,
until 17 November

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[See also: Can Danny Boyle pull off a hip-hop dance version of The Matrix?]

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This article appears in the 25 Oct 2023 issue of the New Statesman, Fog of War