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A Pretty Picaresque

Big leaps, big smiles, big energy—Carlos Acosta’s new “Don Quixote” for Birmingham Royal Ballet does its darndest to capture the larger-than-life spirit of Petipa’s nineteenth-century classic. There are glittering costumes, merry character dances, silk fans swizzling, flamenco-style. There’s no runaway windmill, like in the 2013 version Acosta mounted for the Royal Ballet, but Tim Hatley’s starburst stage design sports its own wow factors, including a luscious velveteen colour palette.

Performance

Birmingham Royal Ballet: “Don Quixote” production by Carlos Acosta

Place

Sadler’s Wells, London, UK, July 7, 2022

Words

Sara Veale

Momoko Hirata as Kitri with artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet in “Don Quixote.” Photograph by Johan Persson

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But (and yep, there's a but) I left the show feeling a little underwhelmed. It’s hard to sustain three hours on oomph alone; you need some grit to keep the wheels moving. While they’ve done an ace job scaling the production down for touring purposes, it feels like the company’s missed an opportunity to streamline the storytelling while they were at it—to excise some of the fluff and spotlight the virtuoso sequences that give this picaresque its big-bang appeal.

Momoko Hirata with artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet in “Don Quixote.” Photograph by Johan Persson

Still, there’s power to the confidence at play here, including first soloist Beatrice Parma’s tidy take on Kitri, whose secret elopement loops Don Quixote into a string of adventures across a gypsy camp, a magical garden and beyond. She’s all business as she dishes out powerhouse pirouettes and slicing sissonnes. Just as there’s no real peril to Kitri’s romance with Basilio (principal Tzu-Chao Chou), you never worry that Parma will misstep, even in the tricky Act 3 grand pas, with its changing-spot fouettés. Chou is less stable, though his easygoing charm—alive in fluid lines and a genial grin—makes for a nice complement. It’s a sweet affair in their hands; the two slot into each other’s arms with an alacrity that’s cute (if not especially racy).

If it’s sex appeal you’re after, look to Eilis Small and Lachlan Monaghan, who make an outsized impact as the on again/off again Mercedes and Espada, all sultry glances and sassy pouts. And for sparkling ballerina beauty, there’s the Garden of the Dryads scene, which is almost plush enough to be its own standalone work. Picture two dozen tutus bobbing in a silvery thicket, a tiny-skirted Amour (Javier Rojas) bounding between them. Lucy Waine twirls in as their queen, spinning like a top, faster and faster, sending the sprites scurrying. It’s elegant and frisky and exquisite all at once.

Rory Mackay as Gamache with artists of the Birmingham Royal Ballet in “Don Quixote.” Photograph by Johan Persson

The slapstick antics of Don Q and his chicken-wrestling sidekick Sancho Panza (character artists Jonathan Payn and Laura Day) are less intriguing, but it’s hard to picture this ballet without a few flurries of farce. The lurid flamboyance of Kitri’s wannabe suitor Gamache (Kit Holder), with his aquamarine wig and sparkling clogs, however, heightens the hokey stakes too far. It feels like he wandered in from another show altogether.

Luckily, the final act swoops in with floral arches, yards of satin and another parade of characters, new and reprised. Splendour is restored. Parma and Chou deliver their final duet with the whole cast looking on, a grand framing that balances some of the in-and-out shuffling of the earlier acts. Like elsewhere, there’s room for some condensing here, but what this scene lacks in efficiency it makes up for in heart.

Sara Veale


Sara Veale is a London-based writer and editor. She's written about dance for the Observer, the Spectator, DanceTabs, Auditorium Magazine, Exeunt and more. Her first book, Untamed: The Radical Women of Modern Dance, will be published in 2024.

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