Kirov: Don Quixote, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff

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The Independent Culture

The ballet of the Mariinsky Theatre, still better known as the Kirov, gave its first Welsh performances at the new Wales Millennium Centre. It 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, it can cope with anything.

The ballet of the Mariinsky Theatre, still better known as the Kirov, gave its first Welsh performances at the new Wales Millennium Centre. It 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, it can cope with anything.

The venue proves an excellent dance house. The stage is broad, the acoustic spacious. The auditorium is wide but well focused: I found good sightlines upstairs and down.

This Don Quixote is in four acts. It's a long evening, more leisurely spectacle than explosion of mock-Spanish temperament. This 19th-century ballet 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, seeing visions, nudging the plot along. The sets, based on 1902 designs by Alexander Golovin and Konstantin Korovin, fit in as many exotic settings as possible.

It's an assured perform-ance, but it should be tauter. Village girls sweep through a street dance, bodies swaying and wrists curling, but the pace slackens. 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 jump. His Kitri is Olesya Novikova, just out of the corps. She has a strong technique, with a light jump and crisp pointe-work. This is a lively, stylish performance.

The vision scene comes from Quixote's dreams. Imagining his ideal beloved, he automatically sees her surrounded by a tutu-ed corps de ballet in a lavishly painted glade. It's a sweet picture, but without the classical rigour of The Sleeping Beauty or La Bayadère.

Vladimir Ponomarev is a quietly noble Quixote, miming with unexaggerated dignity, while Polina Rassadina gives a boldly extravagant account of the Gypsy dance, emoting like a silent-movie Carmen.

Season to 30 April (0870 040 2000). A version of this review has appeared in some editions of the paper

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