By Patricia Boccadoro
3 December 1999 - I first saw Rudolf Nureyev's fun loving,
large-scale production of Don Quixote, danced by the
Australian Ballet, while living in Boston in 1971, and it was
It seems rather odd to be reviewing a work he
created almost thirty years ago, for Vienna in 1966, but to quote
Shakespeare, " Age cannot wither nor custom stale" ballet's
most high-spirited comedy, already written about when staged at the
Briefly, the adventures of Kitri and Basilio
take them from the swirling peasant ensembles and high-stepping
toreadors in the market square to the wild gypsy dances in their
moonlit encampment, and back to the village tavern to the inevitable
happy end and flamboyant wedding festivities.
lightweight plot was never intended to be more than an excuse for
displays of magnificent virtuosi dancing, both from the corps de
ballet and the stars themselves, the New-Zealand ballerina Lucette
Aldous as the vivacious, carefree Kitri, and Rudolf Nureyev as her
sparkling, outrageous Basilio.
While I have since seen many
enjoyable performances of the work, which, with the right dancers in
the leading roles, never fails to delight audiences the world over,
none is comparable to this one, immortalised in the 1972 film,
conceived, danced in, and co-directed by Nureyev himself.
is not only the best of the dance films he has appeared in (he was
thirty-four at the time), it is also artistically, one of the finest
dance films ever made, with Robert Helpmann as co-director, Geoffrey
Unsworth as director of photography, and Bill Hutchinson as art
Nureyev has allowed the camera to tell the story,
moving it fluidly in and around the action, so it shows the audience
what is most important at each stage of the action. He succeeded in
making the film a different experience from that seen sitting in a
theatre, experimenting with interesting over-head shots, close-ups of
the interpreters, and unusual angles. No filming from the orchestra
pit, which he abhorred, here.
The Australian Ballet is a
strong company, the dancing exhilarating, but most of all the sheer
fun of the work has been captured.
First released in 1973,
the film thereafter inexplicably disappeared. On a recent trip to
Paris, Janine Burdeu , head of A. B. C. videos in Melbourne, Australia
told me why.
"By chance"; she said, "I
happened to see an old copy of it about five years ago and even though
the tape I saw was faded and scratched, the performances were so
exciting it gave me goose-bumps".
determined to see it properly, so I found the master tape but it
wasn't much better ", she told me. " Then I finally managed
to get hold of the original 35mm negative from Pinewood studios, and
then the next four to five years were spent tracking down the original
film which we discovered in various cans stored in houses and farms
around Sydney as well as in London, and in restoring it ,which was no
"One camera was out of focus, and this
hadn't been rectified at post-production, the lighting varied from
scene to scene, the sound-track, although it had been recorded in
stereo, was unbelievingly in mono, some shots contained shudder, and
we discovered that two different film stocks had been used, presumably
because they were running out of money", she explained.
aim throughout was to stay as close as possible to what Nureyev would
have wanted and, with that in mind, we re-coloured it frame by frame;
new technology reduced the shudder, and the sound-track was
re-synchronised to video with the sound effects such as the donkey
clopping and fingers clicking added later".
then I unearthed a film of them actually making the film, which
intrigued me almost as much as Don Quixote. Nureyev had wanted
it made, but they were all in so much of a hurry that it simply got
lost and forgotten about. So that, too, has been put together, giving
a fascinating glimpse of the mammoth undertaking. The film was shot on
an enlarged stage in an hangar at Essendon Airport, Melbourne, and the
set builders were working half naked because the temperature was
touching forty degrees. There are interesting rehearsal sequences with
John Lanchbery conducting the orchestra, and Nureyev, who only
arrived the day before shooting , checking everything in sight."
a press conference earlier this year, Lucette Aldous recalled the
booms of planes overhead, and on the set the utter pandemonium of the
seventy dancers, fifty extras, one mule, two horses, twenty-four
pigeons, thirty chickens, and a parrot, without counting the four tons
of fresh fruit and vegetables that arrived everyday for the market
But for most of the cast, it was the smell of the
fish, not so fresh after two or three days in the heat that was, so to
speak, their strongest memory.
"The dancers treasured
every moment with Nureyev", said Janine Burdeu. "Kelvin Coe
would dance Rudolf's part, while the Russian dancer filmed, then
Rudolf would dance, often until eleven at night , having been there
since seven in the morning. And because they were running out of time,
(the complete film was made in less than a month), Rudolf
choreographed the scene at the gypsy encampment on the spot. The only
thing he was difficult about, provided you did what he asked, was his
own hair which the hair-dresser said became a bit of an obsession, but
when you look at him on screen, he was even right about that."
the last shots of the 100,000 feet of film were put in the can ready
to be sent to London for editing, Nureyev, leather trousers over dance
tights, was already heading for New York. Limited by time, he couldn't
go back over scenes again, nor was he there for most of the sound
dubbing. This restoration, using advanced technology to eliminate
technical faults seems like nothing less than a miracle.
Don Quixote new restored version with Rudolf Nureyev, Robert
Helpmann, Lucette Aldous and the Australian Ballet, featuring a
documentary on the making of the film, A Little Bit of Don Quixote.
Minkus. Conductor John Lanchbery with The State Orchestra of Victoria.
International Arts, Inc
Also available on CD from ABC
Available in the U. S. A. through Kultur Video, DVD