Tuesday, March 23, 2010

REVIEW: Don Quixote by The Mariinsky Ballet

At least Don Quixote in the musical Man of La Mancha has The Impossible Dream song, Don Quixote in the ballet Don Quixote has just a lot of walking around. The title should have been Kitri and Basilio. Don Quixote by The Mariinsky Ballet is part of the 38th Hong Kong Arts Festival. I went to the 21st of March performance at the Hong Kong Cultural Center Grand Theatre in which the husband and wife Denis and Anastasia Matvienko danced the role of Kitri and Basilio.

My first experience of Don Quixote was with Filipino prima ballerina Lisa Macuja in the role of Kitri about 22 years ago. I can’t remember who was playing Basilio. All I can remember was that I was totally enthralled by Ms. Macuja’s performance and I gave her a standing ovation. Lisa Macuja, after graduating from the Leningrad Choreographic School at St. Petersburg in 1984 became the first foreign soloist to be invited to join The Kirov (now called Mariinsky) Ballet. This, together with my experience in seeing this company in their home theatre in St. Petersburg created a very high expectation, perhaps too high.

The ballet is inspired by the literature of Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote. Set to the music of Ludwig Minkus, the ballet was originally choreographed by Marius Petipa in 1869 and restaged by Alexander Gorsky in 1900. The ballet enjoyed immense popularity, not for its deep drama, but for its structure which showcases the technical prowess of the soloists, the opulence of the costumes and the wonderful stage design. I have long accepted Don Quixote as a series of sets of beautiful dances punctuated with comic and mime in-between; and this is exactly how the Mariinsky designed their production.

For this production, it had the old world grandness (read old-fashion yet not stale). The stage was filled up with performers that kept the festive mood afloat. Aside, from the soloists, the rest of the corps look like they were a mix of ballet dancers and folk dancers. All of them can dance (read they dance to the music), but their physique, agility, flexibility and technique were as varied as a basket of tropical fruits! At its best, the Dryad scene was almost uniform and a pleasure to watch.

Focusing on the soloists, Denis and Anastasia Matvienko were both a thrill to see. Their mastery of the classical technique was beautifully balanced in both partnering and solo moments. Anastasia was most impressive in her turns and leaps, which were smooth and smothered with athletic elegance. Denis has splendid line and solid technique which showed in both his solos and in how he enhanced the partnership in the pas de deaux. The partnership was of pure confidence, utter ease and total fluidity. Everytime they were on stage, it was always a firework of legs!

Other soloists worth mentioning are Karen Ioanissian as Espada, the toreador. He had the bearing, good looks and classiness of a toreador that would have explained why Carmen will ditch Jose in the Bizet’s opera. Oksana Skoryk as the Queen of Dryads gave a fine performance that almost threatened to compete with Anastasia Matvienko’s Dulcinea.

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