Don Quixote - Royal New Zealand Ballet
4 March 2015, St James Theatre - Wellington
Reviewed by Mona Williams
As the curtain fell on the final Act of Don Quixote, the audience which had packed the St.James Theatre on opening night, gave their verdict in sustained, deafening applause, roars of "Bravo!" and the rolling thunder of percussive feet on the theatre's floor. They had enjoyed this light-hearted feast for the eyes.
Danced with consistent enthusiasm but a light touch by the corps, and with exquisite elan by the principals, this production was recast as a comedic romp with a mastery of narrative force. Set in mid-twentieth century Barcelona, the delusional Don, John Hull, dressed in an aviator's garb and possessed of more dollars than sense, embarks on his lunatic adventure with his nephew Sancho Panza, danced by Shane Urton. Shane's 'Pancho' portrayal, of the socially inept, bookish youth, was extremely well executed employing contemporary technique. The Don's riding his floor mop into idiotic frays, while it sustained the comic heart beat of the production, was emotionally one dimensional; lacking shading and the depth of complexity one would expect from a central character. All the same the audience responded lustily to his cheerful, energetic madness.
The young couple are the impoverished delivery boy, Basilio and the cafe owner's daughter, the charmingly wily, headstrong Kitri. Their trials to have the triumph of true love were danced with impressive leaps, precise turns and elegant partnering by Kohei Iwamoto and with flirtatious wit by Mayu Tanigaito. Her extensions, turns and varied expressions projected her character as possessed of the delicious vitality of youth with youth's rich, complex exuberance. Their eagerly awaited wedding pas de deux left nothing to be desired, judging by the cheers that punctuated each dancer's solo. Fittingly, their exceedingly classical choreography was executed without bravura flair, to permit a better melding with the contrasting contemporary look of the body of the production.
Paul Mathews' routines for his roguish, con artist Gamache, while funny, verged on slapstick unleavened by the wealth of dance vocabulary classical ballet has to offer. Yet his intoxicated staggers and scene stealing shaggy dog endeared themselves to the audience. No surprise that Abigail Boyle, as the conniving Mercedes, danced her role to perfection, although as the foil for sweet Kitri, much more could have been asked choreographically of this tremendously experienced dancer.
As heady as the ingredients of the Spanish drink, sangria, were the mix of hard drinking chamber maids, good time sailors, threatening gypsies, buoyant village youth celebrating the wedding, waiters capeing imaginary bulls and posing toreador style with their over-size table napkins, an enraged father, Cupid and Queen Driad. Clapping, rhythmic stamping, clicking castanets and hands twirled overhead infused Spanish flavour into the dances. The added touch of children was irresistable.
The sets were unstintingly inventive, arresting and riotously colourful, lit brightly and festively for the wedding or gloomily moonlit but star studded, for the gypsies' camp. The costumes added to the sun-drenched atmosphere. The projection onto a large screen, to dramatize the Don's fantasies in Act 1, brought 21st century help to those in the audience, a good many of them children of the YouTube age, who would have been immediately engaged in and informed by the electronic input to the story, of which they might have known nothing.
With Orchestra Wellington under the baton of Nigel Gaynor, the shifting moods of, say, the fight scene in the gypsy camp, the Don's dream sequence or the lush romanticism of the wedding pas de deux were all deftly rendered. I enjoyed the performance on its overwhelmingly contemporary-dance technique merits; no need for validation by expecting to see Acts employing great swathes of Petipa's choreography.