You know just how it is. You wait for ages for a bus
and then two of them come along at the same time. And that’s
exactly how it felt when I received these two DVDs within a week
other - though thankfully, as it turned out, they were each sufficiently
distinctive as to make comparison a worthwhile exercise.
First of all, though, a red herring ... You will no doubt have
already noticed, in my heading, an apparent difference in structure.
The Paris Opera Ballet (POB) describes its version as in a prologue
and three acts, while the Mariinsky Ballet (MB) describes its
as in a prologue and four acts.
Sometimes such differences can be of real significance. DVD buyers
will find that Nureyev’s POB production of Minkus’s La
, for instance, really is substantially shorter than
Natalia Makarova’s Royal Opera House or La Scala productions,
both of which add an extra and valuable 20+ minutes by including
her reconstruction of the ballet’s “lost” final
But, in these two versions of Don Quixote
most notable difference lies in the scene-setting prologues that
show the Don fantasising about his adventures to come. MB gets
its prologue out of the way in less than 2½ minutes so
as to crack on with the main story of the Kitri/Basilio romance
while POB’s, by taking its time in introducing Sancho Panza
as a comic petty thief - and a friar to boot - and establishing
his affectionate relationship with the Don, takes more than seven
minutes. Thereafter, the differences between the two productions
are really just cosmetic: each company offers essentially identical
versions of Acts 1 and 2, before MB offers separate Acts 3 (the
tavern scene) and 4 (the wedding celebrations) while POB combines
those two into a single Act 3 of two scenes.
In the week that I had just the POB version in my possession,
I was quite impressed by its many virtues. From the very opening
orchestral introduction, it is clear that the orchestra plays
with care and, beyond that, with real elegance and, at times, élan.
Playing the lovers Kitri and Basile, soloists Aurélie
Dupont and Manuel Legris are both authoritative and attractive.
They are well matched physically and temperamentally and their
technical coordination is first class. They certainly make a
believable - if, at times, a somewhat restrained - couple and
their Act 3 Grand pas de deux
, while perhaps rather mannered,
deservedly brings the house down.
The dancers taking the flashy, flirtatious roles of Espada and
the street dancer are suitably assured and extrovert, while the
less prominent solo roles are invariable executed to at least
a satisfactory level - and usually much more. In the “character” roles,
Kitri’s father Lorenzo is rather more fearsome than we
sometimes find and the unsuitable suitor Gamache is even more
camp than usual; in this portrayal I’d expect him to be
chasing Basile rather than Kitri!
There were lots of impressive little touches throughout the Paris
production. Just taking the second act as an example: Karl Paquette
impresses as the Spanish gypsy chief. He seems to have cornered
this type of role, for he can also be found playing it in the
POB DVD production of the Minkus/Petipa Paquita
. The POB
children are put to effective use in the puppetry episode and
the subsequent depiction of Don Quixote’s madness is theatrically
most effective. The succeeding “dream” sequence is
also notably well accomplished and Dupont gives a most charismatic
portrayal of the Don’s idealised Dulcinea.
Other pluses I noted some effective comic mugging by Basile as
he supposedly kills himself in Act 3 and Kitri’s particularly
well delivered “fan” variation - not, I hasten to
add, of the type danced by legendary burlesque queen Sally Rand
- in the wedding scene.
There are, on the other hand, some unfortunate minuses in the
POB production. The members of the corps de ballet
undeniably well-drilled, seem to think that Spanish-ness can
be achieved merely by vigorous, coquettish use of a fan or the
twirling of a matador’s cape and the director misses a
trick by not taking the opportunity of moulding them into individual
personalities within the crowd. The costumes are also rather
dull and unremarkable. No doubt they are quite realistic - but
we surely expect the Spain of our imagination and of the stage
to be more flamboyant and colourful than is shown here. The sets
- apart from the Act 3 tavern - are rather bitty, unconvincing
and often bland to the point of invisibility. Such things can
be concealed on film by frequent close-ups that hide a poorly
dressed stage but the video direction here is relatively unimaginative
and flunks the challenge.
Had I not had the Russian Don Quixote
to compare it with,
I suspect that I might not have become quite so lukewarm about
POB. But, in all truth, MB’s production is in a different
league. It conveys an air of youthful excitement and commitment
to the idiom that just does not come across from the more restrained
Paris account. Here the corps de ballet
members give the
impression of being individuals within the crowd and of having
their own distinct individual identities - and there is always
plenty of activity going on in the background on the Mariinsky
stage, with more colourful costumes whirling and twirling their
way through generally “busier”, more convincing stage
sets. Just to give a single example of its extra panache, the
MB production brings on the Don on a real horse - whereas POB
utilises a sort of pantomime version.
That air of “youthful excitement” that I referred
to is much enhanced by the superlative technique and stage presence
of Leonid Sarafanov. By my reckoning, Sarafanov was 23 or 24
when this performance was recorded, but he looks, you’d
have to say, all of 16. If you haven’t yet come across
him, check out a couple of YouTube postings, both from other
performances of Don Quixote
he performs solo
. As the Mariinsky audience clearly
recognises, the boyish, playful Sarafanov is an incredibly charismatic
dancer and he can act well too, with some rich comic facial expressions
and stage play as he flirts outrageously with his Kitri. The
camera just loves him. As a result, his partner, Olesya Novikova,
is somewhat put in the shade when they perform together but,
in reality, she is a fine dancer who matches Sarafanov in her
commitment to the story. The two of them do really come across
as a youthful Romeo and Juliet - while POB’s Dupont and
Legris are, in their more obvious maturity, more of a Beatrice
and Benedick partnership.
The MB character roles fare well, too. Igor Petropy’s comic
interpretation of Kitri’s father Lorenzo works better than
POB’s straighter version, while Anton Lukovkin’s
amusing turn as Sancho Panza is also the superior one (in the
MB production he is most definitely a layman of the most secular
inclinations). The St Petersburg Gamache is silly, rather than
camp, and is another effective performance, and I also especially
enjoyed the highly accomplished dancing of Espada - very athletic
and engaging in the Dance of the toreadors -
and his street
dancer. Altogether, MB’s strength in depth contributes
to a very jolly and entertaining first act.
There are notable performances in all three variations in the
Act 2 “dream” sequence - from the queen of the dryads,
from Amor and from Osipova as the Don’s imagined Dulcinea.
Act 3 is of a very high standard - a busy, believable tavern
is the setting for a well-done oriental dance, Mercedes’s
dance and a joyous finale - and Act 4 come off very well too.
At the latter’s opening I was delighted to hear Minkus’s
lively, foot-tapping introductory march (omitted in the POB production)
and the dancing that follows is consistently top quality - in
fact it is often nothing short of superb. Novikova is again excellent
- a particularly attractive “fan” variation; no less
than a staggering 38 fouettés en tournant
in the Grand
pas de deux -
but most eyes will once more be on Leonid Sarafanov.
He is simply in a league of his own: energetic, athletic, supple
and playful, yet simultaneously demonstrating, when required,
the finest degree of elegance. When Sarafanov leaps he gives
an optical illusion of floating freely for an extra split second
right at the top of his trajectory. Louise Levine’s excellent
booklet notes suggest that “he seems to ride in the air...
as if he had discovered secret thermals within the microclimate
of the stage”.
The Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre supports the whole performance
most effectively. Pavel Bubelnikov’s chosen tempi
closely attuned to the dancers’ requirements and there
is clearly an excellent rapport between the pit and the stage.
The video direction - by Brian Large - is as well thought out
as one would expect from a man of his experience and adds immeasurably
to the viewers’ appreciation and enjoyment.
Both performances offer a great deal to delight and are a pleasure
to watch, then, but MB’s offers one that simply has a greater frisson
excitement surrounding it. And it - along with the version starring
Nina Ananiashvili that I reviewed here some months ago (see review
would be the recorded performances of this highly enjoyable ballet
that I expect to return to with the greatest pleasure in the