Why make a ballet of Don Quixote? To explore delusion? To comment on outdated traditions? When first creating the ballet in 1869 for the Imperial Ballet in Moscow, Marius Petipa focused on one of the book’s tales of two lovers: poor Basilio and feisty Kitri. This Birmingham Royal Ballet production is the second Don Quixote director Carlos Acosta has adapted (the first was for The Royal Ballet). Easier to tour, it also features a new musical arrangement by Hans Vercauteren after Ludwig Minkus.
At just under three hours, it’s long. We open on idealistic Don Quixote (Jonathan Payn) and servant Sancho Panza (played as a comic aside by Laura Day), Don Quixote lost in visions of the lady Dulcinea (Yvette Knight). We’re then off to a provincial town, where the lovers face that most common of resistances from Kitri’s father: no money, no wife. A ludicrously dressed nobleman Gamache (Rory Mackay) also has intentions for Kitri, while Don Quixote conflates Kitri with his Dulcinea. With no real threat to the lovers ending up dressed in white, the ballet moves from a sluggish first act to a vivid second act in a gypsy camp and Don Quixote’s instagram-worthy daydreams. The final act finishes in town, now resplendent in flowers that lift a previously near-anodyne flatness.
Covid-19 is still biting, and the company unfortunately had to reduce the cast last-minute. There are a few wobbles but professionalism prevails. Each time Mathias Dingman as Basilio appears, I relax: always composed, even during high-flying jumps. Momoko Hirata’s Kitri seems more comfortable in later, more reserved variations. The company excel in gypsy camp revels, and live guitarists on stage nicely complement the solidity of the Royal Ballet Sinfonia. Tim Hatley’s costumes shine in the details – an inspired multicoloured swish of the gypsy women’s skirts – rather than Kitri’s blunt red dress or the matador’s gleaming suit.
So why Don Quixote? Don Quixote’s illusions justify elaborate sets and bejewelled dancers – but these are hardly uncommon in classical ballet. There are comic moments, but Don Quixote is neither farce nor tragedy. A harmless production: one to delight children and converts.