Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Mariinsky Ballet – Minkus's Don Quixote. March 23, 2010.

Hong Kong Cultural Centre Grand Theatre – Seat Stalls V31 (HK$493).

Story. Don Quixote and his aide Sancho Panza go about the world in search of heroic quests. They come to the aid of Basilio and Kitri whose love for one another is thwarted by Kitri’s father Lorenzo who favors Gamache. Basilio in a fight pretends to be dying and gets the blessing of Kitri’s father. He then marries Kitri. Don Quixote then goes in search of another quest.

Music – Ludwig Minkus; Choreographer – Alexander Gorsky after Marius Petipa; Gypsy and Oriental Dance Choreographer – Nina Anisimova; Libretto – Marius Petipa based on the novel by Miguel de Cervantes.

Conductor – Alexei Repnikov; Kitri – Anastasia Matvienko; Basilio – Denis Matvienko; Mercedes – Ryu Ji Yeon; Queen of Dryads – Tatyana Tkachenko; Don Quixote – Vladmir Ponomarev; Sancho Panza – Stanislav Burov; Lorenzo – Audrey Iakovlev; Gamache – Soslan Kulaev.

Our friend KS had a ticket for this concert but couldn’t go, so I gladly took her ticket. I had never gone to a ballet by myself, but since I was free that evening, I thought I would give it a try. As I reported in my previous posts, ballet is an art form I have yet to understand. I can appreciate the athleticism associated with the dancers, and much ballet music can stand on its own, it’s just I haven’t quite gotten how the two combined would qualify as a music performance. Alas, tonight’s program didn't help.

The music, by a composer I had never heard of, is light-weight and inconsequential. It reminds me of much film music; it provides background mood and, in case of ballets, the beat for the dancers to dance to. While the orchestra was quite sizeable, the music did not sound substantial at all. Just a collection of saccharine melodies.

I don’t know the full story very well. I am sure (and surely hope) the story told in this ballet is only a small snippet of the entire plot. It is written in such a way that there are lots of excuses for the dancers to do their thing. This includes the dream sequence with the dryads, which in my opinion salvaged the entire ballet as it offered a chance for a classical routine, complete with women dancers in tutus.

If I recall correctly, we actually went to the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Peterburg in the early 1990s and saw the Kirov Ballet perform. At that time we were quite impressed with how precise the dancers were: all their movements seem to be in sync. My subsequent exposure to ballet has been mostly to the NYC Ballet and the ABT, and a couple of performances of The Nutcracker during the holiday season. My observation, influenced heavily by what I hear and read, is that American ballet is more about the individual and thus the group performances are a bit lacking. After seeing this performance, I would say the ABT has nothing to worry about in that department. On the other hand, the individual dancers from the troupe are quite impressive. I counted at least 32 revolutions by Kitri, and 28 or so by Basilio. As I said, I have always been impressed by the dancers’ athleticism.

The show was about 2:45 hours in length. They had to put in two intermissions of about 30 minutes each (billed as 25 minutes), one of them after a 25-minute performance. Many in the audience thought they could have moved on at a faster pace. The sets and costumes were quite elaborate. They even had a white horse appear twice. During the second intermission I had to go to the 7-11 down the street to buy a sandwich, and saw the white horse being carted away in a jockey club trailer.

Overall, Don Quixote is like Le Cosair. Both are written so dancers can have excuses to show their craft. Except in the case of Don Quixote, the comparison with the Broadway show “The Man from La Mancha” is inevitable. We saw this a few years ago, the story is quite forgettable, with Don Quixote also holding forth his sword/lance in a rather asinine fashion. However, in the musical there are at least several nice tunes, including the well-known “To dream an impossible dream.”

This performance was part of the 38th Hong Kong Arts Festival. I wonder if it is worth it to visit Hong Kong during this time next year?

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