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Friday, September 30, 2011


(Pic by Val Adamson. 16 year-old Cynthia González Rodríguez as Kitri and Michael Revie as Basilio)

Mzansi Productions’ staging of Don Quixote is a must even if you aren’t specifically a lover of classical ballet. Staged with the assistance of the National Ballet School of Cuba, the freshness, honesty and energy of the ballet will appeal to all ages. It has also provided a marvellous opportunity for young Durban ballet students to perform alongside highly-disciplined overseas dancers.

In a coup for South African ballet, the Mzansi company is augmented by a group of exceptionally talented dancers from Cuba, South Korea and Argentina and the staging is based on the great 19th century choreographer Marius Petipa’s original choreography of Miguel de Cervantes’ novel.

The ballet version of Don Quixote focuses on a period in the journey of Cervantes’ eccentric nobleman, played with olde worlde panache by Manuel Noram, accompanied by his faithful Sancho Panza, an appealing John Tsunke.

The opening takes place behind a gauze panel of an original portrait of Cervantes by Gustave Doré as the nobleman prepares to stagger off on his travels.

Andrew Botha has produced a stunning set. Working in the normal process of creating a model, he then takes this process further by photographing it in detail. The resulting panels are impressively realistic. The bustling Seville square is dominated by an impressive cathedral and the magic garden and the tavern settings are equally remarkable. Stan Knight’s superb lighting adds to the memorable imagery and there is a clever indication of the windmills which Don Quixote believes are the dragons he is determined to slay.

The story deals with an innkeeper’s daughter, the flirtatious and feisty Kitri, who flouts her father’s wishes to marry the rich Gamache and falls in love with a young barber, Basilio. Don Quixote is also taken with her charms and the process is watched with amusement by Creado, the street boy.

Appearing in her first full-length ballet, 16 year-old Cynthia González Rodríguez as Kitri gives a stunning performance. She is ably supported by Michael Revie as Basilio with Luis J. Fuentes Bermúdez de Castro who provides much of the humour as Creado.

Don Quixote is known as featuring some of the most celebrated showpieces in all ballet and the virtuoso Don Quixote Pas de Deux is a highlight. Unless a dramatic movement is supremely controlled, it will not achieve its spellbinding effect on the audience. Thrills there were aplenty from these three dancers with dazzling grande jetés, pirouettes and tours en l’aire. Especially impressive were Kitri’s grande battements.

Notable performances come from Craig Arnolds as the posturing Gamache, petite Sharné Hein as an adorable Cupid and Andile Ndlovu, who appears as Espada by kind permission of The Washington Ballet. There is a very amusing scene when Basilio pretends to kill himself.

Don Quixote is produced and staged by Angela Malan, Mzansi Productions’ ballet mistress, who has made full use of the humorous content of the story. It features splendid costumes hired from The South African Ballet Theatre, South African State Theatre, National School of Arts and the National Ballet School of Cuba.

Ballet enthusiasts could benefit from seeing more than one performance as the cast changes each night.

Don Quixote has performances in the Playhouse Opera on September 30 as well as October 1, 4, and 5 at 19h30 and on October 1 and 2 at 14h30. Tickets at R80, R100, R120 and R160 can be booked through Computicket on 083 915 8000.

Johannesburg performances will be at the Lyric Theatre, Gold Reef City, from October 13 to 23. Mzansi Productions receives funding from the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund. – Caroline Smart