The Mariinsky's corps de ballet rush on, stamping red-heeled slippers and swishing flounced skirts – a different pattern for every girl. Don Quixote is set in Ballet Spain, a world where everybody hurls away their glass after drinking, before plunging into more bouncy dancing.
This production, by Alexander Gorsky after Marius Petipa, is very loosely based on Cervantes. Don Quixote and his servant Sancho Panza wander through the action, watching or prompting more dance numbers. In the second act, the ballet suddenly remembers that it ought to have some windmills – but only so the Don can be hit on the head, giving him a vision of girls in classical tutus.
Since Mariinsky style aims for refined elegance, the gleeful trashy gusto of Don Q hasn't always been a natural fit for this company. This time, they're happily letting their hair down. The ballerina Ekaterina Kondaurova pops up as a Street Dancer in the first act. She must be the world's most aristocratic busker, but it's fun to see her dash imperiously into the action.
The story centres on two young lovers. Kitri loves the young barber Basil, though her father would rather she married the rich fop Gamache. Anastasia Matvienko is a lively Kitri, spinning briskly through her fouetté turns. She's particularly good at the scampering footwork, with bouncy little jumps. She's smooth and elegant in the vision scene, where she appears as the embodiment of Don Quixote's ideal woman.
She has a flirtatious rapport with Denis Matvienko (her real-life husband), a dashing Basil. He pulls himself up grandly into the Spanish poses, and struts into action. His jumps are clean and assured, and there's a sharp edge to his swizzling turns. He's also a strong partner. Lifting his ballerina into the air, he can let go and catch her again at the peak of the arc. The one-handed lifts are completely secure.
The designs, by Alexander Golovin and Konstantin Korovin, have an old-fashioned confidence that suits the ballet. Painted flats show vistas of ships in the harbour, misty forests, Spanish palaces.
Wherever you can throw in an extra number, they do. Gypsies, toreadors, visions and flower sellers all get in on the act, strutting and flourishing. Islom Baimuradow led the Gypsy dance with a swagger, in a jingling coin belt and red bandana. Alisa Sokolova twists into boneless backbends, her head brushing her heels.
The Mariinsky season runs to 13 August (020 7304 4000)