Review – Don Quixote goes pop in Joburg

2013-03-17 10:00

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Don Quixote expects acrobatics from the dancers over and above the usual precise and perfect balance required of ballet dancers. To achieve this, male dancers must do much more than lift their female colleagues into the air.

They need to do plenty of ensemble work and a load of solos, making this easily the most whizz-bang-wow of the ballets you can go and see. If you are a ballet beginner, this one’s good to start with as it shows off the artform in all its glory.

The ballet, originally choreographed by Russian impressario Marius Petipa and later revamped by Alexander Gorsky, has little to do with the Spanish literary character that gives it its name.

Rather, the errant knight in search of windmills to slay and his trusty servant Sancho Panza travel through the action, giving it a thread of narrative and reminding us all of chivalry’s place in romance.

Most of all, though, Don Quixote’s appearance allows for the ballet to be set in Spain, so that it can include castanets aplenty as well as rip-snorting bullfighting dance scenes and a passionately choreographed pas de deux.

This pared-down version – originally it’s four acts and eight scenes, here it’s two acts and five scenes – is the first full-length ballet to be put on by the newly formed SA Mzansi Ballet. It brings together the significant talents of the SA Ballet Theatre and Mzansi Productions; and includes the imported talents of Washington Ballet’s Brooklyn Mack, Dance Theatre of Harlem’s Michaela DePrince, a selection of Cuban dancers, and Australian Aaron Smyth.

This version has been staged by the company’s Iain McDonald, Angela Malan and Lauren Dixon-Seager with Cuban ballet mistress Ana Julia Bermudez de Castro.

In each performance, the dancers change roles and with this being such a physically demanding ballet with a large proportion of solos, one dancer can’t repeat the same role night after night.

On opening night, Mack danced the role of Basilio, the peasant barber whom Kitri (danced by Sanmarie Kreuzhuber) falls for, much to her father’s dismay. He wants her to marry Gamache (played with comical aplomb by Keke Chele). Don Quixote steps into the breach – largely by accident – to see that the young lovers find their happy endings.

Kreuzhuber had a wobbly start on the night, taking an early tumble, but she came back to do a mostly solid job. It was disappointing, though, that she wasn’t able to do the pas de deux with as much precision and grace. She was unable to hold the difficult pose as required; but as the run progresses, she is likely to find her balance easier.

It was Kreuzhuber’s first time in a principal role on opening night, and everyone has to have a first time. But ballet regulars like me were expecting the eternally graceful Burnise Silvius to be Kitri on opening night. Although it’s not fair to compare anyone to her, it seemed inevitable as she perfected this very same pas de deux for one of the company’s showcases last year.

Sexy and athletic, graceful and strong, Mack is polished as Basilio. He arrived in South Africa a mere four days before opening night, but you wouldn’t have guessed. Ditto the entire cast, they have been rehearsing for some time, but the infusion of the visiting dancers was seamless.

Cuban Javier Monier’s flawless solos tower in the imagination and Claudia Monja is always a pleasure to watch. The ensemble work is without fault. The dream scene is exquisite and I could watch the bullfighters all over again. Olé.

»?Don Quixote runs at the Nelson Mandela Theatre at the Joburg Theatre Complex until March 24. To book, visit or 0861?670?670

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