Don Quixote the Reluctant Hobo

The Leonid Yacobson Ballet Theatre is presenting a news-making premiere, the restored version of Don Quixote by Ludwig Minkus and Marius Petipa. But the theatre-goers from Russia's northern capital will not find it easy to catch the performance at least one more time

In ballet, the New Year means The Nutcracker. But the Leonid Yacobson Ballet Theatre, which does, incidentally, have The Nutcracker in its repertoire, has decided to go against tradition and to greet the coming year with the premiere of one of the world's warmest and most life-affirming ballets: Ludwig Minkus and Marius Petipa's Don Quixote, which is drenched in revitalising sunlight. And there is never too much sunlight in St. Petersburg, so dreary in winter. To help stage the show, the Yacobson Theatre's art director — former Mariinsky principal Andrian Fadeev — has invited another ex-danseur, Johan Kobborg. This Danish soloist, formerly of the Covent Garden, has introduced his personal alterations to the choreography of the 'Russian Frenchman' Marius Ivanovich Petipa, whose 200th birth anniversary will be celebrated in 2018.

Worth the Risk

By the way, Kobborg himself stunned the public at one time when he performed on the Royal stage in London in the very same ballet, and was even acknowledged as the world's most audacious Basilio. He likes taking risks, and the decision to produce Don Quixote together with the Leonid Yacobson Ballet Theatre was one such risk. First and foremost, because this theatre does not have a performing venue of its own, just premises for rehearsals. Which means that every new show is to be held at a different host stage, with the team constantly having to adjust to new conditions. This includes both the dancers and the set designers, who, in this case, are also far from nobodies in the world of art: the Yacobson Theatre is collaborating with the artist Jérôme Kaplan and the lighting expert Vincent Millet. So their key goal was to come up with a show that could be moved around from stage to stage without any extra Herculean labours.

And the artists have proven themselves up to the task, creating a portable set, based on the rather gloomy engravings by Gustave Doré, one of the illustrators of Cervantes' novel. The murky colours of the source material have been brightened up with the vibrant shades of the sunny Spain. This beautiful country is presented in the show in its full glory, without creating a dissonance with the winter holiday mood. While the risk-loving choreographer has not only changed the ballet structure but also introduced a whole new character — Cervantes, the author himself — and staged new dances for Sancho Panza and other comic relief characters. But that said, Don Quixote himself still traditionally remains a purely 'ornamental' part of the ballet, where the main spotlight is given to two young lovers: Kitri (Sofia Matyushenskaya) and Basilio (Kimin Kim). It is quite understandable that, having once played Basilio himself, the choreographer has given this character the most attention, and the young dancer invited over by the Yacobson Theatre stuns the audience with breathtaking, almost physically impossible ballet moves, all with a smile that never fades from his face. Furthermore, his striking appearance is perfect for creating the Spanish couleur locale.

Lost a Gem?

But, despite all the alterations and new elements, the ballet is still perfectly classical, in the spirit of St. Petersburg. At its core, it has remained the way people saw it a hundred years ago and, hopefully, will keep seeing it a hundred years later — a beautiful, joyous, festive performance. There is only one problem: the aforementioned lack of a home stage. The Yacobson Theatre does not even dare dream of ever getting one. Meaning that this wonderful ballet company, which has been active in our city for over fifty years and has been dubbed a true gem of Russia's culture, is forced to cram its shows into those theatres that are currently available.

For instance, the premiere of Don Quixote, which was attended by quite a number of celebrities, took place at the Tovstonogov Bolshoi Drama Theatre and the Alexandrinsky Theatre. The location may be fitting, but these two venues differ drastically capacity-wise. Consequently, at the Alexandrinsky Theatre for one, the orchestra would not fit into the impromptu 'pit', so some of the musicians had to literally be stuffed into a side box. And this is not an infrequent occurrence. What's more, the very fact that the theatre season is in full swing makes it difficult to find a venue willing to take you in, and renting a space is quite costly — hence the steep ticket prices. And the endless tours.

The Yacobson Company mostly returns to its home city in summer, when the drama theatres are on holiday. As a result, it gets utterly lost in the endless stream of random ballet teams that are here to entertain the summertime tourists and more often than not, only ever perform Swan Lake. Which is completely unfair, because the Yacobson Theatre has a lot more to offer to the audience than this single ballet by Tchaikovsky. It does have its own Swan Lake — but it is of a completely different quality, matching the reputation of the Russian ballet brand; so this January, for example, the Theatre will be taking its swans to Japan. As for Don Quixote, there is no way of knowing when the St. Petersburg audiences will get a chance to see it again.

Anna Vetlinskaya

Link to the original