Don Quixote, Royal Opera House London, review: Akane Takada dazzles as Natalia Osipova suffers on-stage fall

Company performance gained energy and pace as the evening went on

Even Natalia Osipova can’t always defy gravity. Making her debut in The Royal Ballet’s production of Don Quixote, the Russian star fell after a soaring leap. Though she finished the act with impressive dash, she had to pull out of the rest of the show. Young Akane Takada stepped in for the last two acts, dancing with superb assurance.

Osipova has had run of bad luck with injuries since joining The Royal Ballet in 2013, suffering a back injury and an on-stage concussion. Yet when she dances, she makes it look effortless: this first act showed off her jump, her speed and her charisma as Kitri, the Spanish girl who wants to marry handsome Basilio rather than the fop her father has chosen for her.

Carlos Acosta’s production, created in 2013, reframes the 19th-century Spanish romp. There’s naturalistic bustle around the familiar virtuoso setpieces, with clean, bright designs from Tim Hatley. It’s a way of tailoring Don Quixote, which is known for its bravura fireworks, to The Royal Ballet, which is more at home with lyricism and drama. It makes for a good-humoured production.

The dazzle comes from the leads. Takada, who had already danced Kitri at the matinee performance, returned looking fresh as a daisy to save the evening’s show. A small, light dancer, she has a porcelain elegance. Her lines are smooth, her phrasing delicate – yet Takada also has the attack for Kitri’s mischievous nature. She’s delightful in her flirty quarrels with Matthew Golding’s Basilio, teasing but assertive.

Golding has a strong technique, with high jumps and confident beats, but needs more presence and dash – and more chemistry with both his ballerinas. Christopher Saunders is a genial Don Quixote, matched by Philip Mosley’s cheerful Sancho Panza. As the street dancer Mercedes, Laura Morera dances with brilliant flourish and attack.

In the ballet’s vision scene, the old knight Don Quixote dreams of her as his ideal woman Dulcinea, surrounded by flocks of soloists and an entire corps de ballet. It’s a chance for the ballerina to show another side to her dancing, a contrast to the castanets and Spanish flounces. Takada has serene authority in the Dulcinea scene, shaping her dancing into long, floating lines.

She’s matched by Francesca Hayward, who brings filigree delicacy to the role of Amour. As the Queen of the Dryads, Claire Calvert had some wobbles but a light jump and sumptuous phrasing. The company performance gained energy and pace as the evening went on, pulling together in support of a new ballerina. The bustling townsfolk bustled with more flourish; the tavern scene had particular bounce and swagger.

The last act brings the ballet’s famous pas de deux, a showstopper of jumps and spins. Takada dances it with assurance and crisp technique. Where Osipova’s jumps are rocket-powered, Takada’s are airy. She finds a witty edge in the show-off moments, looking downright demure when she holds the last balance. She was greeted with huge cheers: she’d earned them.

In repertory until 22 January 2015. Box office 020 7304 4000

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