Time for Don Quixote

11:14 31.07.2022 • Olga Gromova , music historian, Honoured Cultural Worker of the Russian Federation, founder and first General Director and Chief Editor of the Russian State Radio Broadcasting Station "Orpheus”

They say the present day is not for Don Quixotes. They say no one is currently interested in heroic deeds akin to those committed by Don Quixote. They say the pragmatic hearts of today cannot be kindled by the knightly ideals of eternal love…..But I assure you that this is not so! The ecstatic eyes, the never-ending “Bravos!” and the never-abating applause serve as glaring proof to my words.

This year’s hot July in Moscow is reminiscent of sunny Spain, the homeland of our hero. We are in the heart of the Russian capital, in the temple of Apollo with the renowned Apollo-driven quadriga – we are in the Bolshoi Theatre, which is playing host to “Don Quixote”, one of the most glamorous ballets ever.

In the Bolshoi, “Don Quixote” feels at home – it was produced in 1869 solely for the Moscow stage. The composer, Aloysius Ludwig Minkus, was born to Czech parents of Jewish faith; an Austrian and a Catholic by birth and faith, he was, by spirit and major place of residence (never mind the Wikipedia) a Russian ballet composer, and also a violinist, a professor of the Moscow Conservatory, and the conductor, Leon Fyodorovich Minkus…

Those were the 1860s – 70s, the prime day of Marius Petipa and his choreographic marvels. Minkus can rightfully be described as Petipa’s best partner. A ballet dictator as he was, Petipa found Leon Fyodorovich a perfect associate, particularly considering that the latter was not “a freelancer” but occupied the position of “first ballet music composer for the Directorate of the Imperial Theaters”. For 2000 rubles he was required to compose one new ballet a year, re-make the old ones, and incorporate an unlimited number of dances into the running ones. To the great joy of the generations to come, Marius Ivanovich was extremely hard-working and prolific!  And so was Minkus. The years of their partnership produced 16 new ballets, the top ones being “La Bayadere” and “Don Quixote”.

Years later, Petipa, who had spent his younger days in Spain, would share his feelings after the premiere in his recollections: «the hot-tempered, passionate kids of happy Andalusia, they are so mad about their national dance that they cannot stand or sit still when these fiery dances reach the full swing…..They go into shrieks, peals of laughter, they throw their cloaks to the dancers’ feet, they never give a second thought to their everyday life with its misfortunes….The crowd is devoted to the one and only cult - passion».

The ballet “Don Quixote” is a genuine passion and a southern ecstasy in northern Moscow! It’s the glitz, the fire and the suspense, expressed through Spanish dances: jote, zingare, morene, the dances of Spanish villagers, picadors and toreadors…

For the ballet, Marius Petipa picked the story from Part II of the Miguel Cervantes novel, which focuses on the relationship between two lovers – Quiteria, the daughter of the innkeeper, and Basilio, the barber, who are referred to as Kitri and Basil.  The lovers dream of being together but the girl’s father has a better man for her and would not hear of the poor barber. This is where the brave and noble knight Don Quixote steps in: he takes the side of the lovers and helps them to get together… The storyline is unpretentious allowing for a fiery show: a folk feast in Act One, a Gypsy camp and “magic dreams” in Act Two, a wedding ball in Act Three. Don Quixote is a secondary character in the ballet, but his presence casts a particular spirit on the main characters and provides the entire scene with a touch of knightly nobleness and slendour…

“Don Quixote” was produced with an incredibly subtle taste and with a remarkable sense of measure. This is what drives the play into the golden way to the hearts of the viewers. You are struck by nearly everything! The grandeur and quality of the scenery, particularly in the scene with windmills, in the episode of Don Quixote’s dream, in the wedding ball. Striking is the mastery of the light engineers, who transform the stage into a magic forest, a square sparkling in the sunlight, a gloomy room of the castle, with the curtains that miraculously reveal images in projector light… This is not to mention the appearance of a live horse and donkey, which causes the delight of the younger and less experienced section of the public. I for one was impressed by the orchestra, which sets the right tune and pace from the very outset. Arousing a particular pleasure is the ensemble, the balance, and the artistic and professional ease with which they perform. The more popular a ballet, the more challenging it is to play it. For it features the music of nearly all dances – the world hits, known to most music lovers! And even more enjoyable than just listen to the highly professional performance is to bask in the impeccably clear and harmonious performance. My respect to maestro Alexei Borogad, the director of the production…

As for the dancers, of course, they play first fiddle, for it is a ballet. I fully agree with the words written on the Bolshoi site: “Don Quixote”, which has been a ‘springboard’ for great ballet careers for 100 years, is ideal for this purpose and was honed for it to perfection. The energy of this ballet enabled Olga Lepeshinskaya to excel to such an extent that she finished her stunt in the prompter’s box, the ballet made it possible for Maya Plisetskaya and Vladimir Vasiliev to set records of virtuosity, the ballet allowed Yekaterina Maximova to revel in every movement of her feet and Natalya Bessmertnova – to savour her artistic versatility.  Among those who made a tangible contribution to the ballet were Mikhail Lavrovsky, Vladimir Tikhonov, Alexander Godunov, who created their own versions of the part of Basil under the leadership of Alexei Yermolaev, the legendary virtuoso of the older generation.

Leaving their footprints as well were the impeccably academic Lyudmila Semenyaka, the strikingly charismatic Nina Ananiashvili, the encore-winning fouette Galina Stepanenko, the higher-level-reaching virtuoso Irek Mukhamedov, the elegant Andrei Uvarov and Sergei Filin».

As I watched the ballet, I recalled Yekaterina Vasilieva and Vladimir Vasiliev, unsurpassed, in my opinion, as Kitri and Basil. The ballet in question requires more than a dancing technique – it requires dramatic talent, expressiveness, and energy, in order to make the roles come alive. I must say that the young, recently appointed Bolshoi prima Yelizaveta Kokoreva, and ballet premier Igor Tsvirko made surprisingly harmonious partners capturing the attention of the public by their ease of performance, their artistic talent, and most importantly, by their outflowing passion to an extent that the viewers let go of their emotions, smiling, laughing calling encores...

If you want to hear and see,  «…how the very Joy runs the show, how the very Merriment rides the stage», as Cervantes described the Spanish dances, you should undoubtedly head for the Bolshoi!

Spain is Cervantes, Moravia and Austria is Minkus, France is Petipa, and of course, above them all is Russia and the brilliant Russian ballet! All these cultures, having come together in the souls of the great masters, have given birth to something brand new in the form of this production. As a result, three hours fly like minutes of happiness clad in ecstatic joy and bright colors. The gracefulness, the pomposity, the ease, the technique – all joined together forming an alloy of dazzling attire, breathtaking scenery, impressive play of the dancers, ingenious music and the grandiose glitter of our much-beloved Bolshoi!..