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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.