The Balletto di Roma’s take on Don Quixote – Io, Don Chisciotte (I, Don Quixote) – is a thoroughly successful reimagining of the story that uses the Minkus ballet score for an hour of compact yet powerful storytelling. The Balletto di Roma is not to be confused with the Rome Opera Ballet: it is a contemporary dance group, founded sixty years ago in Italy’s capital.
The choreographer is Fabrizio Monteverde, who, at the age of 56 in 2014, surprisingly decided to retire to Cuba “in search of a new creative space”. His return was because he felt he had something to say with this tale of outsiders.
The only scenic element is an abandoned car, which could represent the Don’s once faithful steed, or maybe he lives in a scrapyard. He spends most of the performance in badly fitting Y-fronts and vest. He is a poet and a dreamer, often with a book in his hand. His Sancho Panza is a homeless, pregnant woman, who doesn’t have any interest in books or even thoughts. Until I read the programme note, I assumed that she was his Dulcinea who through his eyes becomes one of the ‘glamorous’ prostitutes he sees on the street.
Instead, Monteverde has made Dulcinea a prostitute – there is a scene with a group of prostitutes all in highly-coloured, vertiginous heels – and she is outwardly attractive, though hard and cool within, like the modern world which overwhelms Don Quixote.
The stage effects were simple yet striking: a windmill is created by a car headlamp shining through a broken electric fan; when Don Q is wounded, it is by arrows, resulting in a San Sebastian-like tableau; Sancho Panza washes his wounds, and her pewter dish eventually becomes his helmet, creating an arresting final stage picture.
The hardworking company have much satisfaction in tackling Monteverde’s challenging choreography, sometimes violent, sometimes tender, but always interesting. He is especially clever in effortlessly going against the images that are inevitably conjured up by such well-known music. The relentlessness and complexity of Monteverde’s moves for the company underline how Don Quixote is no longer part of the frenetic, modern-day world. He cannot, or does not want to, keep up with the pace, finding solace in a book or the gentleness of an expectant mother. His Dulcinea does nothing to console him.
Roberta De Simone was splendid as Dulcinea. Her long, expressive legs were as strong as steel as she subjugated everyone around her. Azzurra Schena was pitiful as the Sancho Panza figure and, even with a sizeable foam-rubber belly, she accomplished much athletic dancing. However, it really is Francesco Costa’s show. As Don Quixote, he was almost always on stage and the role demanded a lot from him both emotionally and physically. He courageously laid himself bare: the pathos was intense, but so too was his passion – a beautiful dancer.