Don Quixote ★★★½
The Australian Ballet, State Theatre, until March 25
The Australian Ballet’s revamped production of Rudolf Nureyev’s Don Quixote is an engaging but uneven spectacle of celluloid-inspired nostalgia. The costumes, based on Barry Kay’s designs for Nureyev and Robert Helpmann’s 1973 film, are vibrant and full of character.
Ako Kono and Chengwu Guo in a scene from Don Quixote.Credit:Rainee Lantry
The sets, also based on Kay’s designs for the film, are less effective. Originally made for an aircraft hangar, they have been rescaled by Richard Roberts. The effect is cartoonishly picturesque but still overcrowded and there is always too much business in the background.
Ako Kondo is a blithe and mischievous innkeeper’s daughter, bringing an endearingly ironic sense of humour to the character. Chengwu Guo as her lover is also impressive, combining athleticism, exuberance and precision – although I have seen him more exact – in his solos and partnering work.
The pair first danced these roles a decade ago and much was made then of their offstage romance. In the intervening years their relationship has featured in profiles, previews and press releases. And yet, overexposed as they are, it remains hard not to be charmed by their onstage rapport.
Adam Bull gives a standout performance.Credit:Rainee Lantry
Adam Bull’s knight errant is a standout performance, with his portrayal balancing the character’s mental instability with a poignant sense of kindness and gallantry. His various interventions in the name of justice suggest a reserve and nobility of purpose that is genuinely moving.
I am of the apparently heterodox opinion that the connection between this ballet and the novel by Cervantes is not insignificant. It is the melancholy fascination of the gentleman from La Mancha that justifies all the colour and pastiche and saves this ballet from buffooning and exhibitionism.
Callum Linnane is vigorous as the prince of the bullfighters alongside a dashing Amy Harris in the street scenes. Yuumi Yamada is a delightful Cupid, waiting to perform the role of Kitri later in the season. And Sharni Spencer – another Kitri in waiting – impresses with her authority as the dream queen.
The ensemble creates scenes of terrific force, particularly in the final act, but intermittently appears constrained. Meanwhile, conductor Jonathon Lo seemed on occasion to be feeling for the rhythm: skittish in the first act and laboured in the second.
Overall, this is a production that requires some tweaks and tugs before it runs smoothly. Larger questions, however, about the narrowness of dramaturgical ambition and the concept of recreating the look of the old film version in this dioramic fashion will linger.
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