Review: Australian Ballet, Don Quixote

Cool Sh*t, Play / 18 April 2023

A defiant love story and swash-buckling adventure played out in a beautiful ballet

Don Quixote is a fun-spirited production, blending drama and romance with swash-buckling duels and energetic dancing. 

The tale follows Don Quixote searching for adventure in a quest to win the heart of the woman of his dreams. And quarrelsome young lovers Kitri and Basilio who desire to be together much to the disapproval of Kitri’s father who believes he has found a better match for his daughter. 

The 2023 production pays homage to the Australian Ballet’s history with Don Quixote when legendary Russian dancer and choreographer Rudolf Nureyev and former Australian Ballet Artistic Director Sir Robert Helpmann co-created what is still known today as one of the most innovative ballet films of all time. 

Direction from current Australian Ballet Artistic Director David Hallberg was for the audience to see the film on stage. And from the very beginning, the drama of Don Quixote leans into the cinematic version. 50 years later, adapting from screen to stage, set designer Richard Roberts used the sketches, archival footage, and original film set model created by renowned Australian designer Barry Kay for the film and earlier stage production, to design Don Quixote for today’s audience. In a nod to the historic film, the opening credits appear on a silver screen and then fade to a still image from the original film before the screen lifts to reveal an exact reconstruction of the stage design.

The show opens in a bustling port setting in Barcelona. Roberts planned for the costumes to be where the stage explodes in colour. The women are dressed in brightly flamboyant ruffled skirts and the men are equally vibrant in their Spanish attire. When directing the 1973 film, Nureyev insisted that the fabric dance, and dance it does.

Don Quixote allows a number of Australian Ballet dancers to shine. Adam Bull takes on the role of the brooding Don with gusto, while Amy Harris attracts attention as the Street Dancer. In the title roles, Senior Artist Marcus Morelli (Basilio) and Principal Artist Benedicte Bemet (Kitri) are playful and a joy to watch as the lovers tease one another in their challenging grand pas de deux (a five-part dance sequence). 

The story is told through the fast footwork of flamenco and the classical movements of ballet. The Spanish dance style is sexy, with women swooning and diving into the arms of the men. The sounds of the dancers stamping and clapping add to the pageantry and frivolity. 

Don Quixote calls for an abundance of well-deserved applause from the audience. Of note, is Bement performing ’32 fouettés’, a highly skilled move of 32 pirouettes releveing (rising up) on pointe on one leg while the other whips around her. The air split jumps of Morelli equally show incredible strength and vigor. It’s ballet bravura (daring performance) at its best.

Those who love the classic style of ballet will especially enjoy Act 2, Dulcinea’s Garden scene. Ballerinas are dressed in ornate lavishly beaded and frilled tutus. Here the corps come together in beautiful synchronised dancing and Dulcinea hops across the stage in a series of graceful movements that only a ballerina can do. 

The defiant love story Don Quixote will thrill audiences at the Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House until 25 April.

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