The third ballet programme brought to London by the Marrinsky Ballet was Don Quixote, the perennial crowd-pleaser with which the Bolshoi scored such a success a year ago. Strangely only two days of their three-week stay was devoted to this classic, but they scored another hit nevertheless. As The Times noted,
What a shame there were just two performances of this greatest of all rom-coms. Don Quixote, which the Mariinsky Ballet has been dancing for more than 100 years, is arguably the single most entertaining work in its touring repertoire. Every time it comes to London I marvel anew at its ability to instil joy and delight in its audience.
Not everyone was pleased with the trés-traditional production,
The Mariinsky's Don Quixote looks every one of its 100-plus years: its jokes ancient, its gestures creaky, its contours sagging. But the right dancers can still galvanise this buffoon of a ballet into spectacular life. And what I love about the Mariinsky is their ability to deliver those performances where you least expect them.
It looks simply sumptuous, with Alexander Golovin and Konstantin Korovin's carefully reconstructed designs filling the stage with a vibrant mass of colour, each costume not uniform but individual, the subtlety of the contrasting reds, yellows, greens and vivid pinks putting most modern designers to shame. When Don Quixote awakes in his dream, he finds himself in a filigree grotto filled with girls in tutus of salmon and dusky pink, vivid blues, mustard yellows, garlanded with bright flowers: it is like seeing a Degas pastel come to life.
But everyone agreed on the dancing:
To call the Mariinsky dancers exceptional is an understatement.
said The Evening Standard, and The Telegraph added,
There are stunning individual performances, too, from the astonishing Ekaterina Kondaurova as a street dancer, balancing on delicate pointe between her admirer's upturned knives, and Alexander Sergeev as a high-jumping bullfighter.
The Observer agreed,
Alexander Sergeyev a hawkish Espada, Ekaterina Kondaurova a superbly imperious street dancer, and petite Yana Selina a delectable flower-seller.
but reserved most praise for the two leads,
The Matvienkos, husband and wife, are both from Ukraine and trained at the celebrated Kiev ballet school. He is laddish, flash, and in performance, engagingly shallow. She is less predictable. More than equal to the flirtatiousness and flick jetés of Act 1, she brings fragrant grace notes to the classical passages and a fine precision of line to the grand pas de deux. And if there is a slight sense of business as usual – this is very much the Matvienkos' showpiece – then it has to be said that business is good.
As did The Times,
Anastasia and Denis Matvienko were eager to show what they are made of. She combines grace and vitality in her ebullient dancing; he is a powerhouse of technical facility and dynamic enthusiasm. Together the Matvienkos were determined to please the crowd and they certainly did that with their outrageously accomplished and zestful performances.
The Guardian saw the second performance,
Of course most of the ballet belongs to Kitri, and Obraztsova's performance was full of good things. Her impeccable phrasing maximised the impact of every small detail (the insouciant rattle of her tambourine while perched in a vertiginous lift); the musicality of her dancing filled every note of Minkus's score.
But periodically the performance was less than the sum of its parts. Sometimes the delicious charm of Obraztsova's dancing failed to register on her face, and her chemistry with Andrei Timofeev's Basil was erratic. Timofeev may be an intelligent dancer, with a steel sprung jump, but he isn't yet the steadiest of partners.
A cast that The Financial Times saw too,
It was on Wednesday night that we saw an ideal Kitri in Yevgenia Obraztsova, so light, so charming, sparkling in dance as in character, adoring her world and her role, and making us adore her with infectious delight. Everything she did, step and drama, was diamond-bright, and she had a most promising Basil as partner. Alexei Timofeyev is young, boasts a big, brave technique that carves massive shapes in the air, and plays with a charming sincerity.
The production offers virtuosic dancing from beginning to end. As The Independent concludes,
Wherever you can throw in an extra number, they do. Gypsies, toreadors, visions and flower sellers all get in on the act, strutting and flourishing. Islom Baimuradow led the Gypsy dance with a swagger, in a jingling coin belt and red bandana. Alisa Sokolova twists into boneless backbends, her head brushing her heels.
The Arts Desk appreciated the company's belief in what they are doing, turning some of those interminable mime and character-dance sequences into magical moments,
The Mariinsky's commitment to character dancing, too, should be commended. Too often in the West, the character dances are a time when audiences begin to try and remember if they need to stop and buy yoghurt on the way home, and was Johnny's football kit put through the wash. The Russian companies have always given them full due, and, in particular, Islom Baimuradow as the Gypsy King, and Kamil Iangurazov, dancing a fandango in the last act, deserved the acclaim they received – they gave truly wholehearted performances.
In another Clement Crisp 5-star review he ends saying,
A tremendous evening, and one further illuminated by Kondaurova as the noblest of dryads, by Sofia Gumerova as a street dancer, and by the dedication of the entire ensemble to this unlikely but irresistible romp. Bravo!
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.