Don Quixote, Royal Opera House, London<br/> H2, Edinburgh Playhouse, Edinburgh

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The Independent Culture

There's a veritable mêlée of Don Quixotes slugging it out between them this autumn, and first into the lists was the Bolshoi's series of farewell performances at the Royal Opera House. Already you suspect that the other contenders will have to be on top form to avoid the "fearful drubbing" that Cervantes was so fond of prescribing for his deluded knight. Not that the Don is more central in this production than in any other. As always, he's just a conveniently lanky prop on which to hang a few extra baubles, while telling the straightforward tale of a boy and a girl triumphing over parental disapproval. Without him there would be no tilt at a windmill, no hallucinogenic dream featuring Cupid and a small plantation of dryads, and no comic by-play with Sancho Panza. Most of the ballet, though, could go on unaltered, with its matadors, its gypsies, its lively pastiche score by Minkus and its set piece after set piece of bravura dancing.

Given that, it's astonishing how often Don Quixote can be a damp squib, an exhausting succession of party turns drained of any vestige of celebration. In the Bolshoi, though, Marius Petipa's most shameless creation has found its perfect medium. The temptation to gush about this production is irresistible, because that's what the production does: it gushes, it spouts and overflows. Everything is geared to excess. The knight is gaunter, the skies bluer, the spins faster and the jumps higher and farther. Covent Garden can barely contain it, as Denis Matvienko - Basil the amorous barber - proved in the final act when he concluded a pell-mell circuit of the stage by plunging into the lap of a watching extra.

In Matvienko and Natalia Osipova, the Bolshoi has a pair of lovers whose recklessness is breathtaking. She is only 20, until a few months ago was still in the corps de ballet, and dances as though she has no inkling that anything is impossible. At times she appears to skid up on to pointe, using the tips of her toes to brake an otherwise unstoppable momentum. She almost pronks, in the climactic pas de deux, like someone for whom the law of gravity is just an ugly rumour, and twice flings herself headlong at Matvienko with apparent kamikaze intent. All honour to him for standing there without flinching, because it looked like the dance equivalent of trying to catch a bullet in your teeth.

Critics enjoy predicting greatness every now and then. It's our, admittedly pallid, way of going out on a limb. Osipova rather cheats us of the opportunity - she's so obviously steeped in the stuff that any acclamation would be like calling Tiger Woods a "promising golfer". Opposite her, Matvienko has terrifyingly skinny legs for a man who generates such tremendous G-forces, but once you stop listening for the tinder snap in every solo, he makes a thoroughly credible, likeably randy lady's man, always ready for a quick grope or attempted leg-over. The light-hearted carnality is just another small reason to love this Don Quixote, among many. Yuliana Malkhasyants's gypsy dancer is mad as a sockful of snakes, and twice as flexible, and even the matador, Artem Shpilevsky, looks as if he might actually survive a corrida. It's all ham, but pure serrano.

After Bruno Beltrao's hectoring, didactic introduction to the Edinburgh Festival, he and his Grupo de Rua de Niteroi also managed to sign off with a bang. H2 is an uninterrupted hour of hip-hop dancing - much of it done in near silence apart from the tortured squeak of trainers - that largely dispenses with overt B-boy acrobatics but, against all the odds, hardly ever palls. It starts with half a minute of near perfection - a handful of dancers, revolving around on their heads, hands or shoulders in rectangles of light that selectively blink out, plunging some of them into invisibility, accompanied by a speeded up Flight of the Bumblebee. In front of the projected legend, "Hip Hop Loves the Beat in Music", every frantic skirl or nervous accent in the music finds its match in a precarious, momentarily illuminated balance or a brief glimpse of flailing legs.

Nothing that follows is quite as purely entertaining, although H2 does finish with a crowd-pleasing display that sees the 10 superb Brazilian dancers pair up and, despite their vastly different physiques, mirror each other's showiest moves. But it's in between that Beltrao does his serious work, building hip hop's characteristic domino- effect way of working the body, where every popping part moves in isolation but sets another part in motion, and its limb-knotting changes of direction, into a kind of intricate, antic clockwork. Thiago Amorim de Almeida, or "Sonic", sets the tone, running backwards in circles in the company of three swirling dots of light. Arms pumping, feet lunging, he could be his namesake (or perhaps Captain Caveman, of hallowed memory) set on fast reverse. When he is joined by some of his colleagues, it is as if invisible cogs connect them so that with every step they are constantly sending each other off in new, contrary, interlocked orbits. It is detailed, textured, relatively unsensationalist and often looks like contemporary or jazz dance with an admixture of St Vitus. It may be a milestone in the history of street dance or a signpost to something completely new, but either way it will be worth following.

Jenny Gilbert is away

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