Friday, August 19, 2011


Presented by The Australian Ballet,
Choreographer: Ai-Gul Gaisina after Petipa,
Composer: Ludwig Minkus,
Costume Design: Barry Kay
Set Design: Francis Croese and Scott Mathewson

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

(Simon Dow as Don Quixote with artists of The Dancers Company)

The Dancers Company is The Australian Ballet's regional touring arm. A mixture of guest artists from The Australian Ballet and graduating students from The Australian Ballet School, the company was founded in 1980 to provide senior students of The Australian Ballet School with touring experience. It also provides the Australian Ballet with a smaller company with which they can service regional centres.

Occasionally The Dancers Company's tours include Canberra, and while the National Capital can hardly be considered a regional centre, in the continued absence of any performances by the main company, these visits from The Dancers Company are very welcome indeed, demonstrated by the fact that this presentation was rewarded with two sold-out performances in The Canberra Theatre.

It proved to be a thoroughly captivating production of one of the most popular classical ballets in the repertoire,with its strongly rythmic music and combination of laughter, beauty, and silliness. The production was meticulously staged with attractive touring scenery, designed by Francis Croese and Scott Mathewson, and the splendid Barry Kay costumes from the original Nureyev production, which still look rather gorgeous even though they are now more than 40 years old.

(I must admit a great affection for these costumes having seen them first at the Palais Theatre in Melbourne in 1970 when Rudolph Nureyev danced Basilio, Lucette Aldous was Kitri, Sir Robert Helpmann was Don Quixote and Colin Peasley was an unforgettable Gamache. I saw them in 1999 when The Dancers Company performed "Don Quixote" in the Canberra Theatre with David McAllister and Madeleine Eastoe as Basilio and Kitri, and again in London in 2001 when Ross Stretton borrowed the production for the Royal Ballet with Carlos Acosta and Marianela Nunez in the main roles. The fact that they looked so spiffy on this occasion reflects great credit on The Australian Ballet's wardrobe staff).

A prologue neatly sets up the story and we follow the trials of the elderly Don Quixote, who, accompanied by his loyal squire, Sancho Panza, decides to set out on a quest to find his perfect lady, the imaginary Lady Dulcinea.

The role of Don Quixote was played, quite beautifully, by Simon Dow, bringing a wealth of experience to the role. His Don Quixote is still "away with the fairies" and funny, but also elegant and definitely noble and rather kindly. Although the aura of the original Sancho Panza, Ray Powell, still inhabits the costume, the very much younger and sleeker Harrison Hall put his own delightful stamp on this role, even throwing in some startling acrobatics which Ray Powell would never have dreamed of attempting.

Following the prologue we meet the rest of the characters of the port of Barcelona. The lively and spirited Kitri (Ako Kondo), madly in love with the dashing young barber Basilio (Andrew Wright), and the vain, vacuous and very funny Gamache (Mathew Donnelly), the unwelcome suitor Kitri's father Lorenzo (Francis Croese) has chosen for his daughter. The efforts of the young lovers to thwart Lorenzo's intentions and escape the attentions of Gamache provides the grist for the rest of the ballet which over three acts involves a gypsy camp, Don Quixote's dream world, and finally the inevitable wedding day.

Choreographer Ai-Gul Gaisina, who herself has danced the role of Kitri in the Nureyev version, has stripped away most of the mime, leaving just enough to progress the storyline. Rightly for this production, her main focus is the dancing, and reverting to the original Petipa choreography she's created a succession of ravishing ensemble dances, solos and pas de deux which celebrate the luxurious expansive sweep of the Russian style, but with none of the affectation. Perfect for displaying the crisp, confident technique of the current crop of young dancers who performed it with infectious enthusiasm and absolute confidence.

Guesting from the corps de ballet of the main company, petite Ako Kondo was perfectly cast as Kitri. With her dazzling attack, wonderful jumps and effervescent personality she tantalized her father, was cheeky to her boyfriend, and had no trouble winning the hearts of her audience. It was a performance that clearly marked her as a dancer to watch.

Handsome Andrew Wright was very much her match as Basilio with his clean line, virile dancing and carefree disposition. Their grand pas de deux in the third act was brilliantly danced and generated genuine excitement, drawing cheers and sustained applause from the packed house.

Other dancers also impressed including Jasmin Durham, all attitude and passion as the street dancer, tall and graceful Hannah O'Neill as the elegant Dryad Queen, and Benedicte Bernet as the cute-as-a-button Cupid. Outstanding among the men were James Lyttle as the dashing Toreador and Joel Di Stefano as the lead Gypsy Boy.

In his speech following the first performance in Canberra, David McAllister, The Artistic Director of the Australian Ballet,expressed his pride in this production, and reminded us that in The Dancers Company we were witnessing the future of The Australian Ballet. Based on this showing that future is in very good hands.

(Mathew Donnelly as Gamache and artists of The Dancers Company)