Opera House, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, DC
June 12, 2015

Carlos Acosta as Basilio Photo Johan Persson

Carlos Acosta as Basilio
Photo Johan Persson

Carmel Morgan

In a program note, President of The Royal Ballet, Prince Charles, conveyed his belief that everyone present at the performance would have a “thoroughly splendid evening.” Based on the abundance of smiles and warm applause from the audience, he was correct, I think; and indeed, Carlos Acosta’s production of Don Quixote is lively and memorable.

Acosta achieves something special in his handsome and entertaining Don Quixote. It’s as if the color is turned up. The brightness comes from more than the vivid blue sky against the red tile rooftops in the town square; the crimson, orange, gold, and purple sunset and emerald green ground at the gypsy encampment; or the yummy pastel tutus of the Dryads (designs by Tim Hatley and lighting design by Hugh Vanstone). It also comes from the dancers and Acosta’s playful touches of humor. The choreography is expressive and fun and strikes a good balance between traditional ballet and contemporary movement.

The acting isn’t over-the-top, but is appropriately buffoonish when called for.  I was reminded somehow of the movie The Wizard of Oz, in technicolor. The characters are rather silly, and the colors bold, but what wins one over is the tenderness of the tale. Similarly, this Don Quixote succeeds because of the humanity with which it is imbued. In the end, there is love, and that’s the most meaningful element.

I saw Don Quixote for the first time in 1982; the Rudolph Nureyev version of the classic ballet with Nureyev himself dancing the role of Basilio. How unforgettably wonderful that performance was! In an echo of that first performance, here Acosta took the lead in his own production. With his wide grin, powerful leaps, and impish charm, he is perfectly suited to dance Basilio.

Yet it was Acosta’s Kitri, Marianela Nuñez, another dancer with Latin roots (Acosta is Cuban-born, and Nuñez is from Argentina), who stood out as the ballet’s star. She dazzled, exhibiting both feistiness and grace. Her back, as supple as windblown grass, arched effortlessly toward her feet, which flew up behind her, as her arms reached triumphantly over her head. She soared exultantly and covered huge swaths of the stage. Watching her dance was pure joy. Acosta and Nuñez constantly flirted back and forth and stirred up genuine chemistry. Their exchanged glances fueled magic. When Nuñez hugged her partner during the curtain call, both arms draped over his shoulders, she showed not only her beautiful heart, but also her appreciation for his craft.

The Royal Ballet in Carlos Acosta's Don Quixote Photo Johan Persson

The Royal Ballet in Carlos Acosta’s Don Quixote
Photo Johan Persson

Among the rest of the cast, Ryoichi Hirano as Espada truly shined. Although he hails from Japan, he was utterly convincing as a dashing Spanish matador. He positively sizzled, twirling his salmon-pink lined cape with maximum masculine flourish. Christopher Saunders as Don Quixote and Philip Mosley as Sancho Panza, did a particularly fine job, too.

The performance wasn’t flawless. There was a dropped fan (although not the first I’ve seen in a performance of Don Quixote), and some faltering partnering. Some of the crowd scenes are distracting, notably where a dancer or two crosses the back of the stage while those in front of them struggle to maintain the audience’s attention. But the high energy and superb artistry of The Royal Ballet nonetheless made the evening the splendid one Charles promised.