This Bolshoi production of Don Quixote, based on Gorsky’s original, is the seed of all modern versions of the ballet. Premiered in 1869 and in pretty much continuous production in the Bolshoi repertoire, it is something of a relic of the 19th-century, with a fairly feeble storyline and music which never rises above the functional. Unlike the more recent tongue in cheek revival of Pharaoh’s Daughter, this is played straight, with a notable performance from Vladimir Levashev as the eponymous knight. However, therein lays its first problem: modern full length ballets have far less mime than in past eras and having a non-dancing title character is now less acceptable, however strong the performance.
The main interest therefore boils down to a rather thin love story between Kitri and Basilio with some pseudo Spanish dancing in the background and Don Q and Sancho Panza bumbling around the edges. It is all very pretty and a good illustration of the famous Moscow dramatic approach to ballet, but dances do not forward the plot and are rather long, especially the Dryads who mostly skip around in circles like very young pioneers at a summer camp.
The fact that Don Q dreams in perfect classical choreography is a conceit that is not unique to this ballet, although the garish costumes and rather lacklustre choreography does no one any favours. The exception here is the leader of the Dryads who looks like a cross between sporty sixth former and the sort of mischievous fairy beloved of Alexander Pope. She is a delight. The set is excellent too, particularly the inn where Kitri and Basilio hide. There is some odd camera work with a couple of sudden, inexplicable pans to the background dancers, one catching
a woman shooting a nervous glance into the wings which is rather odd.
All in all, if most people were honest, they are probably just waiting for the fireworks at the end, beloved of so many galas and still one of the major challenges of the classical repertoire.
So what makes this recording one that should not be missing from the discerning viewer’s shelf? In a nutshell, Nadedzhda Pavlova. Whilst her husband Vyacheslev Gordeyev impresses as Basilio, technically impressive and a considerate partner, it is Pavlova (in spite of her famous Russian name, a Chuvash by birth) who is scintillating throughout. Her technical assurance is breathtaking. It is a bravura performance and yet not lacking in dramatic ability. She is pint sized (and not of a body shape that is currently fashionable in the ballet world) and yet she commands the stage with mesmerising power and a fine-tuned sense of timing. She makes it look so easy: turns that would make a dervish blush, crescent feet that are always placed perfectly, rock-solid pointe work and balances undertaken with a paradoxical mix of insouciance and panache that she seems to say could go on for as long as she wished if only the music was not continuing.
She is one of the 20th century’s ballet legends, although not well-known outside of Russia. The opportunity to catch her on film in one of her signature roles is therefore not to be missed.
The Russian Ballet Collection (five classic ballets) are available via www.russianballetcollection.com or by calling (UK) 0344 543 9801.