Kirov Ballet, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff

Don Quixote meets Carmen in a leisurely but loose spectacle
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The Independent Culture

The ballet of the Mariinsky Theatre, still better known in the West as the Kirov Ballet, gave its first-ever Welsh performances at the new Wales Millennium Centre last night. This was also the first large-scale dance performance in this auditorium. It's a good test. If a theatre can cope with this Don Q, with its corps de ballet, live horse and donkey, bullfighters, windmills and gypsies, then it can cope with anything.

The ballet of the Mariinsky Theatre, still better known in the West as the Kirov Ballet, gave its first-ever Welsh performances at the new Wales Millennium Centre last night. This was also the first large-scale dance performance in this auditorium. It's a good test. If a theatre can cope with this Don Q, with its corps de ballet, live horse and donkey, bullfighters, windmills and gypsies, then it can cope with anything.

The Wales Millennium Centre proves to be an excellent dance house. The stage is broad and handsome, the acoustics spacious. The auditorium, lined in stripes of local wood, is wide but well-focused. I swapped seats in the first interval, and found good sightlines upstairs and down.

There's no shortage of intervals. The Kirov Don Quixote performed in four acts, more leisurely spectacle than explosion of mock-Spanish temperament. The sets, based on the 1902 designs of Alexander Golovin and Konstantin Korovin, fit in as many exotic scenes as possible.

This 19th-century ballet, credited to Gorsky after Petipa, uses Cervantes as a peg for a village love story. Kitri loves Basil, but her father wants her to marry a rich fop. Quixote wanders through the ballet, seeing visions and nudging the plot along. There's always time for another scene change, another gypsy dance, even for an unexpected Oriental dancer with carpet.

It's an assured, easy performance, but it could be tauter. The corps of village girls sweep through a street dance, bodies swaying and wrists curling, but the pace drops between numbers. Mikhail Sinkevich, conducting the Mariinsky orchestra, takes a relaxed view of Minkus's rum-ti-tum score.

There's more energy from the young principals. As Basil, Leonid Sarafanov struts on slender legs, with fast turns and a clean, light jump.

His Kitri was the coryphée Olesya Novikova. She bounds through the jumps and high kicks, and her footwork is strong and fast. Most importantly, she has a flowing line and expressive phrasing. As the village girl, she dances with bright attack. In the vision scene, she has a softer lyrical quality. Her solos are shaped with musical attention.

Quixote's dreams provide the ballet with its vision scene: a tutu'd corps de ballet grouped in a lavishly painted glade. This isn't, it must be admitted, one of Petipa's better visions. It's a sweet Victorian picture, without all the classical rigour of The Sleeping Beauty or La Bayadère. Still, the Kirov corps settle charmingly into their groupings. Alina Somova, the Queen of the Dryads, rather breaks the mood with sky-high leg extensions.

Vladimir Ponomarev is a quietly noble Quixote, miming with unexaggerated dignity. At the other end of the scale, Polina Rassadina gives an extravagant account of the Gypsy dance, like a silent movie Carmen.

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