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Don Quixote at the Paris Opéra Ballet

PARIS, 7 July 1998 - Happiness for me is Rudolf Nureyev's light-hearted, lively version of Don Quixote, for no matter what cast, changes of scenery or costume I've seen since its original staging for the Vienna Opera in 1966, it has always been a joyous romp.

With music by Ludwig Minkus (arrangements John Lanchbery), choreography by Rudolf Nureyev (after Marius Petipa) and decor and costumes by Nicholas Georgiadis, it entered into the Paris company's repertory in 1981, and has been enjoyed by countless spectators who inevitably roar their approval after each performance.

Based on Petipa's 1871 work at Saint-Petersbourg, (revised by Alexander Gorski in 1902), which was more a succession of Spanish, Russian and gypsy dances, Nureyev added a stronger story-line and introduced an element of the Commedia dell Arte, with such incidents as a comic sword-fight between the tottery old Don Quixote and the foppish nobleman, Gamache, just one of many incidents which has the audience giggling helplessly throughout the performance. He also added an exceedingly beautiful pas de deux, danced below the old windmill in the moonlight to develop the romantic interest, to music he « borrowed » fromThe Bayadere.

The ballet, which is taken from a minor incident in the second volume of Cervantes 1605 book, tells the story of Kitri, an impudent village girl and her adventures with her sweet-heart, Basilio the local barber. Kitri's father is vainly trying to force her to marry the unwholesome but wealthy Gamache, and when the lovers flee to seek refuge in a gypsy encampment, Don Quixote comes to their aid, but is wounded while attacking the windmill. Naturally the melancholy knight recovers and is instrumental in arranging a happy-ever-after ending.

The magnificent set designs and costumes by Nicholas Georgiadis, who came from London to supervise the production not seen in Paris since 1991, are strongly inspired by Goya. While they do not have the realism of Barry Kay's live chickens and old horse plus droppings, (present in the filmed version with the Australian Ballet in 1972), they simply burst with life and are a feast for the eyes.

On May 15th, Agnès Letestu as Kitri radiated her joy and delight in dancing from the moment she appeared on stage, and Laurent Hilaire thoroughly enjoyed himself as the roguish Basilio. Scooping his Kitri in effortless one-armed lifts in Act 1, Hilaire had the audience breathless with his enormous jetés and show-stopping high, clean jumps.

The fact that the company has a seemingly inexhaustible well of talent was demonstrated by Marie-Agnès Gillot with each haughty toss of her head in the role of the street-dancer, and by Benjamin Pech who shone in the gypsy dance of Act 2.

It was, however, extremely interesting to see a « repeat » performance of Letestu on 6 June, this time with José Martinez. While it has obviously been necessary to programme both these young artists with the company's other star dancers, proving that each is a personality in their own right, perhaps it is now time for the public to benefit more often from this unique partnership.

" They are so much more than two superb dancers", Josette Amiel, their teacher told me backstage after their performance, " Each is remarkable separately, but together they are sensational ".

Letestu, already brilliant with Hilaire, gives something extra when she dances with Martinez. A couple in real life, the onstage-offstage relationship means that each has full knowledge of the other's strengths and weaknesses ; instinctively, they know how the other will react, and they work tirelessly together, preparing and discussing roles.

They are physically complementary, being tall and slender and both have the gift of translating music into movement. Their limbs fall naturally along the same lines, and they move in unison ; their synchronisation is extraordinary.

People often ask me who is the « best » male dancer in Paris. Before Christmas, I would have replied, Charles Jude (in L'Après-midi d'un Faune), in January, Laurent Hilaire(Abderam in « Raymonda ») and in February, Nicolas Le Riche(in « Le Spectre de la rose »), but ask me right now, and I'd reply José Martinez for his superlative interpretation of Basilio, the mischievous young barber in Don Quixote.

Already one of the finest exponents of Nureyev's choreography, this role might have been written just for him. Spanish to the ends of those fingertips smoothing down ebony lacquered hair, Martinez, born in Cartegena, Spain, was the finest Basilio I have seen in recent years. Buoyant, darting, ebullient, full of humour and charm whether flirting with all the pretty girls or dazzling the audience with his lightning footwork, the young Spaniard positively revelled in his role.

Not to be out-done, Letestu, as strong on technique as in dramatic expression, had the audience gasping at the dizzying speed of her now famed pirouettes and height of her flick jetés. Yes...Letestu can also jump.

For pure, sheer fun and displays of bravura technique, Letestu and Martinez will also be dancing together for several performances in next season's production of Don Quixote at the Palais Garnier, December 24, 26, 27m, 28, 29, 30, 31 1998, January 2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 12, 14, 15 1999.

Orchestre de l'Opéra National de Paris directed by David Coleman.

A video recording is available of Nureyev's Don Quixote, danced by the Australian Ballet, and filmed, directed, and interpreted by the great Russian dancer himself. It is one of my favourite dance films. Don Quixote with Rudolf Nureyev, Lucette Aldous, Robert Helpmann . Orchestra directed by John Lanchbery. Dance Videos 1972

Other News and Future Performances:

Agnès Letestu and José Martinez have been given the critic's award in Danza and Danza in Italy for the best classical couple of the year.

Letestu will be dancing with José Martinez at a gala in Nimes on 18 July.

They will also be appearing in Porto-Vecchio (Corsica) on 20 July, in Tokyo on 25 July and in Osaka on 3 August.

La Nuit des Etoiles Solidaires, an exceptional evening of dance in Les Arenes de Nimes, France, (profits to Aids). A particularly beautiful setting giving a rare occasion to see Paris Opéra stars Moniques Loudiéres and Manuel Legris, Agnès Letestu and José Martinez, together with principal dancers Aurélie Dupont, Lionel Delanoe, and corps de ballet members Marie-Agnès Gillot, Laeticia Pujol, Melanie Hurel, Hervé Courtain, Benjamin Pech and Stephan Phavorin, six young dancers who would doubtless already be principals in any other company.

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