Traditionally, December is the month when the Leonid Yacobson Ballet Theatre showcases its main premiere of the year. This time, it's Don Quixote. The premiere that heralds the celebrations in honour of Marius Petipa's 200th birth anniversary, as well as the official year of ballet in Russia.
Incidentally, Don Quixote has had an immense amount of remakes and renditions over the course of the past century and a half. Today, the audiences of St. Petersburg are being offered a chance to see a classical version of the ballet, staged by the Danish choreographer Johan Kobborg.
Kobborg and Don Quixote go way back. Alumnus of the Danish Royal Ballet School and former principal of London's fabled Covent Garden, Kobborg has performed in this ballet quite a few times, and in different versions, too.
When the Leonid Yacobson Ballet Company decided to bathe the St. Petersburg theatres in warm Spanish sunlight, there was hardly any doubt as to which choreographer to choose for the task. And Kobborg has succeeded in creating a complex and action-packed performance, which feels quite modern but does not lose touch with tradition.
'The ballet has a lot of acrobatics, a lot of challenging solo moves. It requires everyone, not just the leading dancers, to give their utmost. And Johan works on it every day, many hours in a row. He gives each and every person on-stage his undivided attention'.
Johan Kobborg, choreographer:
'The characters' relationships are very important to me. I pay a lot of attention to miming in crowd scenes, to setting the stage. I want to see the dancers act. To watch the responses of every character'.
As no original notes survive on how to act out the ballet, each new choreographer is given a certain degree of freedom. And each has their own way of tackling Don Quixote's fragmented structure. Kobborg has introduced a prologue with the character of Cervantes, changed the order of dance scenes, and given a serious overhaul to the presentation of the secondary cast. His Sancho Panza is so very charming when in love, light as a balloon.
The scenery has been thought through as meticulously as the performers' every gesture. It has been designed by the world star Jérôme Kaplan, just as the costumes for the ballet. This Don Quixote is the third in his portfolio. To accommodate the Leonid Yacobson Ballet Theatre, which does not have a stage of its own and is constantly travelling on tour, Kaplan has only used lightweight structures and painted fabrics, with motifs based on the famous engravings by Gustave Doré, one of Cervantes' illustrators.
Jérôme Kaplan, set designer:
'The engravings give the set a Spanish flavour. There are a lot of bright colours, but there is a lot of black too. I also had the engravings in mind when I worked on the costumes: I made the black outlines bolder, emphasizing the silhouettes. I like these stylish graphics'.
Fast-paced and life-affirming, this ballet has always been enjoyed by the public. Today, they will play it was the Bolshoi Tovstonogov Drama Theatre; tomorrow, at the Alexandrinsky Theatre; and afterwards, where fate wills it. Don Quixote will roam from one stage to another as befits a wandering knight.