Don Quixote – Sadler’s Wells, London

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Choreographer: Carlos Acosta

One of the earliest novels, Don Quixote, has been adapted many times, with every leading male ballet dancer in the twentieth century rethinking the story for performance. Now it is Carols Acosta’s turn for the Birmingham Royal Ballet, which, like those before, jettisons most of the novel to focus on the central romance. Running at nearly three hours with two intervals, Don Quixote is a long evening, but Acosta’s adaptation is joyful, a sparkling version that enjoys its Spanish roots.

Lovers Kitri and Basilio are desperate to marry, but Kitri’s innkeeper father insists she marries the aristocratic but awful Gamache. Enter Don Quixote, a deluded but noble man who mistakes Kitri for his fantasy love Dulcinea, and when the lovers escape, Don Quixote and his squire follow them. Several adventures follow before the romantic knight ensures true love wins out.

Don Quixote’s name may be above the door, but he is barely present in his own story, a side-lined character who dances relatively little and, when he does, merely hands his female partner around. Instead, Tom Rogers as the knight living in a fantasy world, must principally give an acting performance of operatic-style confusion and disorientation that often takes place alongside or competes with Acosta’s patchwork of stories happening simultaneously around the stage.

Instead, the floor and the night belong to Momoko Hirata’s Kitri and Mathias Dingman’s Basilio whose three-act love story is beautifully played by the pair as the couple overcome Basilio’s wandering eye to find contentment. Hirata is outstanding in the lead, elegant and light as she moves swiftly round the stage capturing the independent zest that defines Kitri’s character, her determined agency over her life and spirited refusal to settle for less than she deserves. Dingman makes a perfect partner and, whether in solo or pas de deux, the pair illuminates the stage throughout.

Nipping at their heels is Brandon Lawrence as the swoonsome matador Espada who has no deterministic purpose in the story other than being part of the market town melee, but the shapes and lines Lawrence creates are sublime, statuesque even, as he embodies the Spanish influences in Acosta’s choreography. Likewise, Javier Rojas and Emma Price stand out as the passionate and intense Gypsy Couple in Act II’s beautifully staged encounter with the fleeing lovers.

Acosta creates interesting contrasts across Don Quixote, the busy hubbub of the market square in the long first Act filled with different character sets all showcasing their dance sequences, the wistful fantasy of the Dryads and their Queen imagined in glorious shades of gold, lilac and silver before returning indoors to the inn for the finale. Designer Tim Hatley brings tones of Hollywood period drama in the Technicolour era to the town scenes and Disney dreamscapes to the contrasting pastoral visions for the wild gypsy camp and serene willow tree grove of Don Quixote’s mind.

Acosta gets very little wrong, although some of the bumbling comic characters are humorous but sometimes too exaggerated for the romantic focus of the story – particularly the exuberant Gamache whose yellow silk suit and blue periwig turn him into a Scooby Doo Charles I. Occasionally too, the vast numbers of dancers on stage get a little cramped, unused to the space and one of the perils of a touring show trying to fit itself to different stage every night.

Around two hours of dance content is stretched over three hours of performance, intervals and ovations but Don Quixote is a cheery reinvention with some truly great performances from the principals of the Birmingham Royal Ballet.

Runs until 9 July 2022

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