Don Quixote, Ballet by L. Hilaire
The arrival of Laurent Hilaire’s version of Ludwig Minkus’ Don Quixote in Rome is an instance of the world of ballet coming full circle: Hilaire, by securing his appointment as artistic director of Moscow’s Stanislavsky Ballet at the beginning of 2017, became the first Frenchman since the legendary Marius Petipa to lead a Russian ballet company. When Minkus’ Don Quixote was premiered at the Imperial Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow in December 1869, it was Petipa who provided the choreography.
Drawing on specific episodes from the classic early seventeenth-century novel by Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote has attracted the attention of many other ballet masters including Alexander Gorsky, Mikhail Baryshnikov and, perhaps most famously of all, Rudolf Nureyev. Hilaire’s Don Quixote may be inspired by Baryshnikov’s revival for the American Ballet Theatre, but it is also undoubtedly a tribute to Nureyev. Hilaire was elevated by Nureyev from sujet to étoile in 1985 following his outstanding performance in Swan Lake for the Paris Opera Ballet.
The ballet, like the book it is based on, is full of humour. Don Quixote, his head swimming with ancient tales of chivalry, mistakes real-life events for the stories he reads. He assumes a young woman called Kitri is his beloved Dulcinea. After dancing with the Knight of the Mancha, Kitri escapes with her lover, Basilio, pursued by her disapproving father, Lorenzo, and the man he would prefer she take for a husband, Gamache. Quixote and his faithful servant, Sancho Panza, join the chase.
Predictably, the knight is easily distracted. He disrupts a puppet show, confusing the lead character again with Dulcinea. Then, in a reimagining of one of the most famous episodes from the original story, he challenges a windmill to a duel, thinking it to be a marauding giant. Eventually he comes to his senses and tries his best to prevent Kitri and Basilio from being discovered by Lorenzo and Gamache.
In the end, Lorenzo does find them, but Basilio, by faking his own suicide, dupes Lorenzo into granting him a final wish: his daughter’s hand in marriage. Basilio makes a miraculous recovery and their wedding provides cause for celebration (and of course more dancing) before Don Quixote and Sancho Panza set off in pursuit of further adventures.
In Hilaire’s view, great art can only be created if a company’s dancers perform to the very limit of their technical abilities. Don Quixote at the Teatro Costanzi, Teatro dell’Opera di Roma, this season, will undoubtedly be joyous and exuberant, but, based on Hilaire’s comments, also promises to be ballet at its most ambitious.