From the Summer 2015 Issue of Clef Notes Journal

In a highly anticipated weekend event, The Royal Ballet, of London will bring several star-studded casts to perform three nights of Carlos Acosta’s Don Quixote at the Auditorium Theatre this June. Don Quixote, newly created for The Royal Ballet last season by principal guest artist, and Cuban-born ballet superstar Acosta, is the choreographer’s first full-length ballet for the company. The ballet uses inspiration from the 1860s version by Marius Petipa, with music by Ludwig Minkus, and arrangement and orchestration by Martin Yates. Brand new designs for the show are by Tony Award winning designer, Tim Hatley, known for his work on Shrek The Musical with lighting is design  by Hugh Vanstone. To enhance this impressive list of technical and production veterans is a cast of dreams. The June 18 opening night performance in Chicago will see Acosta himself dancing alongside The Royal Ballet’s darling, Argentine dancer Marianela Nuñez. Royal Ballet director Kevin O’Hare readily anticipates the engagement, explaining, “We’re really looking forward to coming to Chicago. The company hasn’t been there for many, many years."

Many are familiar with the story of Don Quixote, based on the classic book by Miguel de Cervantes. The famous and enduring traditional ballet version of the story, choreographed, most famously by Marius Petipa, shows the adventures of Don Quixote and his simple squire Sancho Panza. Quixote, convinced that chivalry is not dead, sets out to revive it, undo wrongs, and provide justice to the world. Along the way, Quixote and Panza encounter young lovers, Kitri, and Basilio who, fleeing from Kitri’s father, run into a camp of gypsies. Don Quixote falls asleep at the camp, prompting the iconic ballet dream scene and the dance of the Queen of the Dryads. Basilio then tricks Kitri’s father into giving his blessing for the two to marry, and Quixote and Panza attend the wedding of the lovers. The ballet traditionally ends as Quixote and his sidekick set off again to continue their righteous journey.

By special commission, Petipa mounted this work for the Ballet of the Imperioal Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. The company premiered the work in December, 1869. Following that premiere, interestingly enough, the first full-length production constructed outside of Russia was a completely new staging, produced and choreographed by Ninette de Valois for the Royal Ballet in 1950. Legendary dancer and choreographer Mikhail Baryshnikov mounted his own version in 1980 for American Ballet Theatre, for the first time bringing the familiar and iconic work into the repertory of an American ballet company.  Baryshnikov's version has also been staged on The Royal Ballet, which has most recently  presented Nureyev's version of the work. So it's safe t say, having explored its concepts in a variety of famous iterations, Don Quixote runs deeply in the life's blood of The Royal Ballet.

Speaking of the new Acosta production, Royal Ballet dancer Thiago Soares has noted an appreciation for, “the fact that it is a traditional classical production but also reflects today. The mimes and gestures relate to us, and this freedom of character is a fantastic vehicle for the artists performing.” To shed a little more light on Don Quixote’s latest phenomenal iteration, O’Hare explains, “Acosta has really honed in on the dramatic talents of The Royal Ballet, having been a dancer with (the company) for so long, he really knows the company, and he has brought different elements into the way of presenting the story.” People shouting, dancing on tables and counters, live musicians and flamenco guitarists on the stage, are the ‘different elements’ of which O’Hare speaks.

Some of these elements, especially the vocalizations by dancers on stage, and the freedom of setting dancers atop tables and inviting live musicians onto the stage, are an absolute sign of the modernization of this ballet. O’Hare reminds audiences though, that this production is certainly still presented largely in the traditional fashion. It has not been modernized in such a dramatic way as Balanchine’s version at New York City Ballet in the 1960s, which saw no ties to the regularly staged Russian production. O’Hare elaborates, “All (female) dancers (will be) on pointe, you get the tutus, the traditional character dancers, so in that sense, the ballet is sort of traditional with a bit of a twist. Acosta is bringing it a sense of steam, you know, it’s a fun story so he’s just adding to the whole Spanish flavor of it, I think.”

A Regal Debut

The acclaimed Royal Ballet will bring a fresh new vision of Don Quixote to the Auditorium Theatre this summer

By Jordan Reinwald

Soares has noted, ‘The challenge of (Acosta’s) Don Quixote is the technical demand and the level of energy required, but this (flavor) and freedom is why the audience will love it!”

Acosta, himself, has pointed out a delicate play between classical traditions and a true modernization of Don Quixote. In the second act, for instance, he has said that the choreography moves significantly “away from the classical manners of moving,” as a contemporary approach conveys the boisterous and lively gypsy encampment depicted in the Queen of the Dryads dream scene.

Audiences can expect precise technique from this summer's American premiere. The Royal Ballet, known to have incredibly technically proficient ballet dancers, is heralded as a company for its dramatic and artistic ability. Yet Acosta's florid and unrestrained choreography has presented a  challenge to The Royal as note by The Guardian, “As past productions attest, Don Quixote suits the Royal Ballet dramatically but not stylistically. The flamboyant choreography, with its sinuous upper-body work and extravagant back-bends, has always sat uneasily on the decorously schooled Royal dancers.” The production has been admired for its color, its flair, and its joie de vivre, none-the-less, by enthusiastic audiences since its inception, and Chicago dance-lovers can expect nothing less.

In creating the spectacle, rehearsals for the production actually began as early as 2012, with Acosta having a “rather long” time to develop the work, according to O’Hare. “This was the first big, full length production (Acosta) ever tackled. The year before we premiered the production, wherever we had some free time, we let him go into the studios with some of the dancers and let him just try out different elements of things, and so by the time we came to do the whole rehearsal schedule which was eight weeks before the premiere, he had actually tried a lot of the material already.”

In addition to a long rehearsal process musicians, and the technical team also spent many months prior to the premiere preparing for the remount. As Yakes points out, Minkus' original score was largely considered to be quite the achievement musically and  historically. After all, it was “the first piece of music made specifically to accompany a story ballet.” While variations have been added throughout the years—and The Royal Ballet’s version does include some of these—Yates emphasizes that Minkus's original work “is a most integral part of the tradition of classical ballet.”In casting, Kevin O’Hare expresses excitement fo
r The Royal’s Chicago stay, as Acosta himself and Marianela Nuñez (an Argentine ballerina known for her performance of the ballet’s prima ballerina role, Kitri) will provide Thursday’s opening night lead couple. Other highlights of casting for the weekend include American Ballerina and Boston native Sarah Lamb, and principal Berlin State Ballet dancer Iana Salenko with the striking Australian  Steven McRae.

Acosta sums up what audiences can expect from his new work succinctly: “It’s funny, full of great characters, the music, the score, it produces a terrific effect with the steps. It’s full of Spanish flavor and it’s very exotic, and very colorful...”

Unlike the great tragic ballets, Romeo and Juliet and Swan Lake, this new production absorbs the audience into its frivolity, full of energy and excitement. Acosta insists, “You’re going to leave with your heart just soaring,” great promise for another delightful evening at The Auditorium Theatre.

The Royal Ballet performs Don Quixote at The Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, June 18 to 21. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday performances are offered at 7:30 p.m. with two matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 pm. Tickets run upwards of $40.

The Royal Ballet's Carlos Acosta and Marianela Nunez in Acosta's revitalized vision of Don Quixote (photo courtesy of the Royal Ballet).