The Imperial Russian Ballet Company annually undertakes extensive international tours, including annual visits to Australia, presenting ambitious productions of popular classical ballets with its troupe of some 40 dancers drawn from all over Russia. Over the years the company has built up a loyal following in Australia, especially among those centres which would otherwise not experience live ballet productions on this scale.
Because the company depends on attracting large audiences for its very existence, its Artistic Director, Gediminas Taranda has become a master at staging spectacular productions which are not only well danced and respect the Russian Ballet tradition, but which are also highly entertaining. This exuberant production of Don Quixote is a particularly spectacular example of Taranda’s imaginative staging at its best.
Based on the original Petipa libretto and choreography, and danced to a recorded version of the familiar, tuneful Ludwig Minkus music, this Don Quixote is very obviously set in Spain. It follows the well-known story of an ageing Spanish nobleman who’s losing touch with reality, and who, accompanied by his faithful squire, Sancho Panza, sets off on a mission to win battles and rescue imaginary maidens. His journey involves him in all kinds of scrapes including altercations with windmills and gypsies.
While sticking to the general premise of the libretto, Gediminas Taranda has fleshed it out with spectacular scenery, colourful swirling costumes, exciting ensemble dancing and loads of panto-style humour, led with admirable enthusiasm by Vitautas Taranda as Kitri’s father, Lorenzo.
The well-trained ensemble dancers support the familiar set-pieces with stamping, whistles and shouts. Much use is made of colourful fans which are clacked and snapped loudly by the ladies of the ensemble to add to the spectacle and emphasise particularly note-worthy dance moves.
Lina Seveliova is a beautiful dancer, every inch the archetypal Russian ballerina, and perfectly cast as Kitri. Animated and confident, she performed the showy choreography and spectacular lifts effortlessly and with panache. Her Basilio, Nariman Bezkhanov, on the other hand, seemed to be having an off-night. In the first two acts he seemed disinterested, his dancing was lacklustre and his acting perfunctory at best.
For these acts he strangely eschewed the socks worn by the other male dancers, to display distracting ankle tattoos. However in the third act he rallied and for the climactic pas de deux, white tights now covering the tattoos, provided flashes of the expected brilliance.
There was plenty of fine dancing from the rest of the company however, especially from Alexandru Balan who leads the male corps of lavishly costumed toreadors in a spectacular display of cape twirling, Anna Pashkova who uses her flashing eyes and remarkably flexible back to great effect as a fiery gypsy street dancer, and from Dinu Blmagu as the virile, energetic Gypsy Chief.
Told in three-acts, this delightfully entertaining production by the Russian Imperial Ballet of Don Quixote, provides a satisfying evening of spectacle and excellent dancing in the best Russian Ballet tradition.
Canberra Theatre Centre, London Circuit Canberra
Performance: Monday 5 May 2014
The Russian Ballet continue their Australian tour with dates in Adelaide (13 & 14 May) and Perth (17 & 18). For more information, visit: www.russianballet.com.au for details.
Image: courtesy of the Russian Ballet
Review: Bill Stephens