We have fans and mantillas; have we the legs?: Louise Levene watches the toil, sweat and temperament as the Royal Ballet prepares its new 'Don Quixote'

'MEN'S legs] Men's legs]' comes the plaintive cry of a beautiful ballerina in distress. Viviana Durante, in rehearsal for the Royal Ballet's glamorous new Don Quixote, which opens on Wednesday, stares at the mirror and pinches her tiny thighs in disgust.

The shabby rehearsal studio of the company's premises in Baron's Court, west London, is as hot as a hospital in a heatwave. Soloists and principals slouch around in sweat-soaked tracksuit bottoms, looking like refugees from a rave. Beneath the beautiful surface of a new Royal Ballet production lies a chipped and grimy world of torn leotards, frayed tempers and bags under the eyes. Everyone looks younger off stage - and thinner. Girls who seem almost hefty in performance are revealed as waif-like. They make me wish I'd brought food parcels. The men look a lot better in the flesh: butcher and much bigger; the addition of a little sweat and stubble is a definite improvement on their lacquered on-stage perfection.

Since the end of February, Viviana Durante and the rest of the company have been rehearsing a version of Don Quixote acquired from Mikhail Baryshnikov, who created it for the American Ballet Theatre in 1978. They work under the beady eye of Susan Jones, a freelance ballet fixer nominated by Baryshnikov to recreate his work. Small and decidedly plump, she enthuses wildly about the range of starry international dancers who will be performing this Spanish extravaganza and feels we will be seeing a new side of them. 'Stylistically this ballet - the whole peppery flavour of it - is something they just haven't done before,' she says.

The men's class that morning had been traumatised by the arrival of a small group of Japanese visitors taking photographs. The boys are used to 24 hours' notice of a photographer's presence, and the notoriously camera- shy French superstar Sylvie Guillem must be faxed at home.

Ms Guillem herself lopes by in Michelin-man quilted trousers, held up with braces. She sits on the floor alone eating crisps (ready salted). She is not at all happy with the space available for rehearsal. There are too many people in the studio, apparently, with such stars as Darcey Bussell, Zoltan Solymosi, Viviana Durante, Irek Mukhamedov and Tetsuya Kumakawa all jostling for room.

Fiona Chadwick bursts across the stage in a crisp series of jumps and an impressively Hispanic turn of the head. 'It looks good, Fi,' enthuses a colleague. But the dancer pulls a face and hobbles to the side of the room clutching her back: 'I feel like I've done three acts.'

This is the wrong side of the fabric: untidy, unfinished, painful. The smiles come later, but they will be as carefully choreographed and artificial as the pointe work. Someone enters with the contents of a bizarre shopping list: two bags of tambourines, a basket of red and green peppers and a large creel of plaster fish.

It's a simple plot, only loosely based on Cervantes's novel: Basilio the barber wants to marry Kitri, whose father has other plans; Basilio marries Kitri. The mad old Don and Sancho Panza wander in and out of the action, providing comedy, pathos and the odd windmill. But the ballet is crawling with props: swords, lances, tambourines, fans. The fans are crucial to the Spanish look, and everyone is practising like mad. One of the company's native Spaniards flicks her fan open with a sparkle and panache bred in the bone - and drops it. All the fans are falling to bits, but it's hoped that the new ones from Spain will withstand the treatment.

More intensive rehearsals take place in one of the smaller studios. Donald MacLeary, Royal Ballet star of the Sixties and Seventies, conducts a pas de deux rehearsal with Viviana Durante and the former Bolshoi beefcake Irek Mukhamedov - one of the seven different partnerships scheduled to dance the ballet.

They are trying to work out a compromise that will satisfy Baryshnikov's watchdog but still be comfortable for the dancers. There are mutinous mutterings. 'She wants it like this. She says it's more Spanish.' Ms Durante despairs: 'We'll have to have signs on the stage.' Her low spirits are understandable. Despite a bad cold, she had performed the gruelling role of Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty within the last 36 hours. 'My temperature went right up.' She has had little chance for relaxation: a one- hour class, an hour and a half of pas de deux rehearsal, rounded off by half an hour's personal coaching.

'Not shoulders. Shoulders nussing] Yum pum. Yum pum.' Madame Messerer, former Bolshoi ballerina, is guest teacher with the company and is coaching the principal girls. She is 84 years old. I close my eyes and try to imagine my granny in pearls and velvet teaching a 25-year-old how to flirt. I open them and there is Madame doing just that, her wizened beauty creasing into little smiles and frowns as she helps the young ballerina. It will be a lot easier once she's in the full tutu and mantilla.

Don Quixote requires a total of 197 costumes in 110 designs. Wizzy Shawyer, the costume supervisor, and her colleagues inhabit a maze of garrets in Covent Garden with tutus hanging from the ceiling like bordello lampshades. 'Mark (Thompson) hasn't designed for ballet before. He wants them to look like real clothes rather than costumes, and he's fighting the stick-on sequins, twinkly bits of lace. A lot of it is black.'

In theory, the funereal effect will be dispelled by the vivid orange set. The key problem designing and fitting for ballet is that the wearers will not keep still. 'We must accommodate movement,' says Ms Shawyer. 'I have a trick of getting them to lift their arms and lean back as far as possible - usually the most extreme movement they have to do. We've had lots of traumas after the event, when they've made a particularly vigorous move and everything's popped out on stage.'

But that's only the lucky ones. 'Sometimes they have a bit of help in the bosom department. The Kitris have to be quite shapely, to achieve a Spanish look.'

To judge from their measurements, it can't have been easy. Although the ballerinas' sinewy waists don't come much slimmer than the standard beauty queen's 24 inches, the resemblance ends there. Some have barely enough hips to hold up their tights. 'One girl has 28 - weeny hips.'

Everyone has at least two fittings - not always a pleasant experience. 'The new corps de ballet girls are usually OK, but once they reach soloist status . . . sometimes they get very difficult,' says Ms Shawyer.

What about the notoriously picky Sylvie Guillem? 'We consulted her first. Everybody always says, 'We want costumes like Sylvie's, they're so wonderful', so we thought we'd solve all the problems on her and make everybody else's the same. She's been very good. Her advice is constructive: she knows her body well, she knows what works and she's very straightforward about it.'

Fitting is simpler with the male costumes. If anything, they fit rather too well. The breeches are constructed from what appears to be a spin-off of the surgical appliance industry made almost entirely from elastic. 'It's a bit like having your muscles clamped by somebody's hands - some of them love it.'

I broach the delicate subject of hygiene and wish I hadn't. 'I'm trying to give them all a pair of tights and a shirt underneath that will absorb the sweat. Some of them do get a bit high . . . That's why they're a bit reluctant to share other people's. The main matador costume (an astonishing confection of braid and beads) won't be cleaned until the end of the run.'

If then. The huge cost of spring cleaning 197 costumes covered in beads is deferred until the company decides whether the ballet is worth reviving. By Thursday morning Ms Shawyer should know whether to alert the dry cleaners.

(Photographs omitted)

Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind-the-scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
News
Winchester College Football (universally known as Winkies) is designed to make athletic skill all but irrelevant
Life...arcane public school games explained
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
News
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    C# Algo-Developer (BDD/TDD, ASP.NET, JavaScript, RX)

    £45000 - £69999 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Algo-Develo...

    Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, Apache Mahout, Python,R,AI)

    £60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

    Data Scientist (SQL,Data mining, data modelling, PHD, AI)

    £50000 - £80000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Data Sci...

    Java Developer - 1 year contract

    £350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Cent...

    Day In a Page

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone