Natalia Osipova suddenly launches herself sideways, sailing through the air to land in the arms of Ivan Vasiliev, half a stage away. The Mikhailovsky Ballet’s Don Quixote is full of impossible feats, performed with swaggering charm.
Don Quixote was a breakthrough ballet for Vasiliev, who became a star by dancing it with Moscow's Bolshoi Ballet when he was just 17 years old. When he and Osipova moved to St Petersburg’s smaller Mikhailovsky Ballet – major news in the ballet world – the company was quick to stage a new production of this 19th-century warhorse.
Created last year, Mikhail Messerer’s staging is confidently traditional. Vyacheslav Okunev’s sets are full of painted vistas of fantasy Spain. The marketplace is bright with awnings and views of a blue sea; the windmills are satisfyingly sturdy. Don Quixote makes an entrance on a real and very patient horse, with Sancho Panza on an equally real donkey. Conductor Pavel Bubelnikov and the Mikhailovsky orchestra find rich warmth in the oompah tunes of Minkus’ score.
Originally choreographed by Marius Petipa and Alexander Gorsky, with plenty of adjustments since, Don Q is determinedly Spanish. The corps flutter fans, wear red roses in their dark hair, bang tambourines and swish their skirts. If the Spanishness ever seems to be flagging, on rush a horde of bullfighters, cloaks at the ready.
Don Quixote is a supporting character in his own ballet, wandering through scenes and having convenient visions. Young lovers Kitri and Basilio are the stars of the story, and none starrier than Osipova and Vasiliev. In a ballet full of fireworks, they soar, spin and sparkle – occasionally over-egging the comedy, but fizzing with energy and charisma.
Seven years on from his debut, Vasiliev is stronger and more mature, swooping Osipova into one-handed lifts. His jump has the same gravity-defying lift. As he goes up, and up, and up, an awed gasp goes round the theatre. For all the raw power, Vasiliev can be delicately precise: he starts one turn at whizzing speed, then slows right down, coming to a superbly controlled stop. I do wish someone would confiscate his hair product: imagine having curls like that, and keeping them from going boing.
Osipova moves with glittering speed and huge scale, whirling into fast turns and flirty footwork. She’s sleek and grand in the vision scene, with sleek arms and gorgeously strong hops on pointe.
Ekaterina Borchenko makes a gracious Queen of the Dryads. Marat Shemiunov is a dignified Don, with Alexey Kuznetsov daring in Sancho Panza’s slapstick: he goes scarily high when tossed in a blanket.
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