A Colourfully Exciting Don Quixote from Brazil’s São Paulo Dance Company

26/04/2018

São Paulo Dance Company’s Don Quixote: Dancers of São Paulo Dance Company, Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz / Christoph Gedschold (conductor), Festspielhaus, Baden-Baden, Germany, 14.4.2018. (GT)

São Paulo Dance Company’s Don Quixote (c) Renan Livi

Cast included:

Don Quixote – Joca Antunes
Sancho Pansa – Bruno Veloso
Lorenzo – Milton Coatti
Kitri – Thamiris Prata
Basilio – Cicero Gomes
Gamacho – Daniel Reca
Toreador – Luan Barcelos
Two toreadors – Andre Grippi, Gelvison Moreira
Mercedes – Ana Paula Camargo
Gypsies – Diego de Paula
Dulcinea – Luiza Yuk
Amor – Yoshi Suzuki

Production:

Music – Ludwig Minkus (adapted by Norberto Macedo)
Choreography – Marcia Haydée
Set designer – Hélio Euchbauer, with drawings by Joao Candido Portinari
Costumes designer – Tânia Agra
Lighting designer – José Luiz Fiorrucio
Poems – Carlos Drummond de Andrade

The São Paolo Dance Company were formed only in January 2008 since which they have established themselves as a world-class ballet company touring 130 cities in America, Europe, and Israel. In their brief history the company have premiered 32 new ballets in addition to the 24 traditional ballets in their repertoire. The company’s artistic director Marcia Haydée (who studied at the Royal Ballet School in London) was the prima ballerina for John Cranko’s company in Stuttgart during the 1960s and 70s. She said of her mentor, ‘I gave myself to Cranko almost like a virgin: fresh and unformed.’ Among her most celebrated creations was Juliet in Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet and Kate in The Taming of the Shrew. After Cranko’s death, she became director of the Stuttgart Ballet, and worked with Kenneth MacMillan.

This production is their own adaptation of Don Quixote from the famous Petipa ballet to Ludwig Minkus’s music and is a shortened version with just two acts (the original version of 1869 was in four acts at the Bolshoi Theatre, however another fifth act was added at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg in 1871) but still encapsulates the main themes of the Don Quixote’s story from Cervantes’ epic tale. Anna Pavlova brought the ballet to the West in 1924, and in different stagings, it has become a favourite throughout Europe and America with successful productions by Balanchine, Ninette de Valois and Nureyev. Haydée’s take on this ever-popular ballet is a showcase for the company’s outstanding dancers and her choreography is condensed into two acts totalling 85 minutes. The Brazilian composer Macedo’s adaptation introduces guitar music into the second act and portrays the most memorable themes from Minkus’s score. The Brazilian São Paulo Dance Company’s adaptation has a prologue and epilogue in which we were given a presentation of the hero’s plight and his mad dreams of adventure through poems in German.

Of course, there is little or no plot in this silly libretto which is as nonsensical as anything staged in the theatre, but it’s strength is that it is packed full of exotic and colourful scenes enriched by a romantic score. The main benefit of this evening was witnessing the superb dancing by this fine company. The most exciting dancing was in the ‘dream’ scene of the Amor of Japanese dancer Yoshi Suzuki, his lifts and jumps were thrilling, excelling in lightning fast routines using the great spaces of the Festspielhaus (it boasts the largest stage in Germany). His contribution was worth the ticket price alone! Most notable too was Luiza Yuk cast in the role of Dulcinea for her wonderful interpretation and she got better and better the longer the performance went on. The supporting toreadors and gypsies were superbly effective, and there was excellent dancing too from Cicero Gomes (Basilio), Bruno Veloso (Sancho Pansa), Ana Paula Camargo (Mercedes), and Daniel Reca (Gamacho). Thamiris Patri excelled in Kitri’s pas de deux in the finale and there was especially stunning artistry during the grand pas de toreadors revealing the world class standards of this company. At the centre of the whole drama was the pitiful character of Don Quixote himself played by Joco Antunes who from beginning to the end was the consummate hero of this comic ballet.

The orchestra offered excellent musical accompaniment for the dancers, the scenes were very well choreographed, with emphasis on speed and energetic showcasing of the most dramatic scenes; though sometimes there was a lack of synchronization. The music was exciting, without any strong themes in the first act, for me there is so much lacklustre music with the most attractive winning themes all contained in the second act. Certainly, the orchestra boasted a great brass section matched by colourful woodwind and brought out all the southern colours of Minkus’s scoring. The performances of the secondary dancers were beyond praise, and the much more vibrant second act was marvellously well presented and danced. This was a performance of great excitement, energy, and wonderfully colourful dancing wholly enjoyable for the packed auditorium of the Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden.

Gregor Tassie

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