Royal Swedish Ballet
Royal Opera House, Stockholm; May 23, 2015

Minji Nam and Dmitry Zagrebin in Don Quixote.  Photo Hans Nilsson

Minji Nam and Dmitry Zagrebin in Don Quixote.
Photo Hans Nilsson

Maggie Foyer

A matinee following a major premiere the night before, can sometimes result in a second best performance from a tired company. However this Don Quixote was quite the opposite as a somewhat lacklustre opening night transformed into a thrilling performance. There was an air of anticipation from an audience eager to see Dmitry Zagrebin, the new acquisition from the Bolshoi, dancing with Minji Nam, in his first major role and the audience was not disappointed.

From the moment an exuberant Nam burst onto the stage followed by an equally buoyant Zagrebin the ballet sprang to life. The couple are well suited both physically and in temperament. The lively banter between the lovers in the first act, softens into the tenderness of the moonlit duet in the gypsy encampment, before building to a triumphant grand pas where they still found time to steal a kiss between the virtuoso tricks. Their relationship was a joy from start to finish.

Nam was on brilliant form; a light dancer with a beautiful line she sailed through the technical difficulties. Zagrebin proved his pedigree from his first entrance. He has a magnificent jump, dazzling turns and the boyish charm needed for a true Basilio. The tempi, a shade more lively than the sluggishness of the previous night, were still less than helpful, but at no time did either dancer let this affect their performance.

The company warmed to their presence, engaging with other dancers on stage, reaching out to the audience and dancing without the nervous inhibitions that plagued the opening night. Act 1 is the most exuberant of the three. Designer, Nadine Baylis, has created an interesting space on several levels for the harbour square and costumes of brilliant hue. The swirling red cloaks of the toreadors and the yellow frills on the skirts filled the stage with vibrant movement as Kitri and Basilio scheme to outwit her father and thwart his unacceptable plans for her marriage. The elegant Daria Ivanova seemed miscast as Mercedes playing her in a manner too imperious for a lively street dancer, but Vahe Martirosyan impressed as Espada in the company of Kitri’s two vivacious Friends: Moe Nieda and Luiza Lopes.

Alone on the stage at the beginning of the second act, the runaway lovers Kitri and Basilio still tease and flirt but now have the opportunity to show their affection for each other in a long pas de deux. Surprised by the gypsy band, the couple join them in yet more high-spirited dance; Daniel Goldsmith leading the ranks with somewhat more enthusiasm than technique.

Hugo Therkelsson as the Don.  Photo Hans Nilsson

Hugo Therkelsson as the Don.
Photo Hans Nilsson

The brief dream sequence where Kitri, now as Dulcinea, floats through the Don’s dreams is rather awkwardly staged but into the scene proper and Nam found lyrical depth in the role enchanting both the Don and her audience. The dryads were well rehearsed and danced to a good standard with Ágota Ecseki as a coquettish Cupid but Sarah-Jane Medley struggled to attain the necessary strength and dignity as Queen of the Dryads.

The story reaches an apex of silliness in the final act but there is the famous grand pas de deux to compensate. In this version, it’s a little more restrained omitting many of the big lifts but there is plenty of excitement to be had in the solos and a thrilling coda that brought the ballet to its prerequisite climax. It was good to see classical work danced to this level on the Opera House stage.

The Swedish Ballet has a strong cohort of character artists. Hugo Therkelson proved a dignified and charismatic Don playing him somewhat less decrepit than is often the case thus making the duel with Gamache more credible. Daniel Norgren-Jensen, as the rich suitor, was in his element playing the role with great panache and helped by a truly excessive costume – it would be hard to find space for even one more ribbon or bow on his jacket. Throughout the ballet the elements of fantasy in the costumes matched the exuberance of the choreography and Léon Minkus’ spirited score.

Rudolph Nureyev choreographed his version of Don Quixote for the Australian Ballet in 1970 and it was this version the Royal Swedish Ballet brought to London in the 80s. In 1981 he reproduced it for the Paris Opera and this later version is now staged in Stockholm by Laurent Hilaire. In the pre-show talk he recounted the influence that Rudolf Nureyev had on his life and career, noting also the technical clarity Nureyev had demanded from the dancers in this virtuosic ballet.

Johannes Öhman, as artistic director has a difficult balancing act maintaining both the contemporary and the classical components of the company. In a major production that demands all the company’s resources, some unfortunate planning resulted in a number of the company principals and soloists either rehearsing or dancing in other productions and this seriously weakened the ranks. Don Quixote is a ballet dancers love to perform. It provides two exhilarating lead roles, plenty of smaller roles and even the corps get their share of good dancing.

For a Maggie Foyer’s thoughts on the opening night – a rather a lacklustre show apart from Yolanda Correa who was a super Kitri – check out her review on Dansportalen.