DANCE / Clicking fingers, stamping feet: Judith Mackrell on illicit love among the gypsies in the Royal Ballet's new production of Don Quixote at the Royal Opera House

BY ANY standards, Don Quixote is a silly ballet. Its story - only glancingly indebted to Cervantes' novel - follows the most elementary of romantic plots. Its score, by Minkus, is at best rousingly danceable, at worst repetitive doggerel. And its choreography, Petipa re- worked by Gorsky re-worked by Baryshnikov, is packed with fake-Spanish fireworks. If you look for the mythic resonances of Swan Lake, the musical sophistication of Sleeping Beauty or the choreographic poetry of Bayadere, then Don Quixote stands exposed as a very second-division 19th-century ballet.

It is, though, a ballet to have fun with, both for dancers and for audiences, and with its swaggering choreography and knockabout mime it stands or falls by the brio and gaiety of its performers. In theory it's a good moment for the Royal to acquire the work, for there are so many smart young dancers in the company, champing to show off their stuff, that the ballet's opening run can boast seven separate casts.

The first, on Wednesday night, was headed by Irek Mukhamedov as the impoverished Basilio and Viviana Durante as his betrothed Kitri. Happily in love, the pair are thwarted by Kitri's father, Lorenzo, who wants her to marry the addle-headed and unsexy nobleman Gamache. To escape his orders the pair run away to a gypsy camp, encounter the pale and dotty Don, and with the latter's muddled aid finally trick Lorenzo into letting them marry.

The dancers who perform Kitri and Basilio barely have characters to act, they simply have to make us fall slightly in love with them. Bolshoi- trained Mukhamedov is on home ground with all the ballet's diversionary jumps and turns and he adeptly positions himself so that his slightly past-its-peak technqiue looks fresh and strong. He thus seems to have all the time in the world to be gallant, flirty and funny - to play with the choreography and romp into everyone's affections. Durante though is so busy trying to imitate a smouldering Soviet-cum- Spanish ballerina that she finds little warmth or humanity in Kitri. She all but snaps her spine with the force of her back-bends, and flourishes her fan and kicks her legs as if it were a life or death challenge. The results can be startling and sometimes lovely but they are cool and ultimately dull.

Many of the other dancers (assorted matadors, flower- girls, gypsies, etc) have the same problem. They click their fingers and heels, arch their torsos and parade their legs with gusto, but the feeling is of performers so strenuously shedding their English inhibitions that they've forgotten how to be people. Some of the mime roles also need loosening up, with David Drew and Iain Webb indulging in some irksomely exaggerated horseplay as Lorenzo and Sancho Panza. Derek Rencher is a convincingly moony Don, though, and Stephen Jefferies steals the stage at Gamache. Bald, powdered, padded and bejewelled, the mad glint in his eyes bespeaks a hilarious paranoia and he waddles and postures through the action with almost pitiably daft arrogance.

Given that the Royal are desperate to revive their ailing audience figures, they will be relieved that Wednesday's packed house clapped zealously at every cue. Undoubtedly the ballet will improve as the dancers settle into it, and an already established pleasure is Mark Thompson's design. Junking the ballet's usual travel-poster setting, he has created a spare, elegant set of pale interiors and intense ochre and siena courtyards. You can feel the heat and scent the dust. In fact, with a few deft strokes Thompson achieves what the dancers haven't yet managed - which is create a credible Don Q for the 1990s.

In rep at the Royal Opera House (071-240 1066)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher in the eleventh season of Two and a Half Men

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn