13 September 2006

Don Quixote, Ballet Nacionale de Cuba, Sadlers Wells, 8th Septeber 2006

Oh dear. What a disappointing evening. I saw Ballet Nacionale de Cuba’s stunning (in every sense) Giselle last year and was expecting this to be as good, if not better. But no. I suppose that’s the problem with high expectations – they are invariably disappointed.

Sets were dismal. A few hung cloths (iron please!) and the odd chair and table – really guys – these would have disgraced an amateur production of Gilbert and Sullivan in the local church hall. I know that the company are a long, long way from home, and that it costs good money to transport sets – but these?

Costumes were, frankly, not a lot better. In Act 1, the corps de ballet looked like they had been given the keys to the local branch of Brentford Nylons and told “do what you can”. They had obviously majored on flannel nightdresses and net curtains. Pale and washed out looking, they showed none of the glamour which could have been on show. Note for costume designers: a palette of brown, beige, cream, white and pastel pink looks VERY tired. In retrospect, I suppose they did convey the dustiness of small town life. But even the best clothes of poor people show some colour to them. At least the matadors injected some decent shades – red and yellow, the colours of the Spanish flag; nice touch. Costumes for the gypsies were slightly better – but why was this troupe of gypsies all dressed identically? The Vision scene costumes were slightly more grand, but the Wedding costumes reverted to flannel nighties and net curtains. And some truly horrid wigs.

I’m no ballet critic, and I know far too little to be able to comment on the techniques of the performers. But having seen this company’s stunning production of Giselle last year, in which the technical ability of all the performers was indisputable, I expected a lot better. The male corps were particularly ropy at times. And everyone seemed to be hogging the back of the stage instead of making use of the entire depth. Basil and Kitri (sorry, programme not to hand so performer’s names not available) were very nicely matched in terms of ability and stagecraft), and Espada the Bullfighter showed considerable braggadocio in his movements. Kitri especially showed that the mark of true balletic ability is to make it look as easy as falling off a log. Rarely have I seen fouettes so secure.

The evening wasn’t a complete disaster. I spotted some nice touches – the implication that Kitri’s father used to be a matador himself (was he injured in the bullring and had to retire, I found myself wondering?) and the vision scene made perfect sense staged as an out of body experience instead of the usual “dream”. There was a very crafty link between Acts 1 and 2; in the former, Kitri gave her shawl to a girl who obviously admired it. In the latter, the girl turns out to be one of the band of brigands, and saves Kitri from a nasty duffing up by recognising her as the generous donor of the shawl. Apparently its unusual to have the mock suicide in Act 3 – personally I thought this the most apposite place for it – at least placing it there means that Act 3 has some relevance to the plot instead of just being endless divertissments.

As I said, I saw their production of Giselle last year and was completely blown away. I even thought it superior to the Royal Ballet production (at least their Myrtha didn’t fall over!). But far from being a blast of hot, dust laden wind from the hills of Catalonia, this production was more like a beautiful day dawning then being obscured by a damp and soggy cloud. Occasionally there was a glimpse of the sun through those clouds, but for most of the evening, the outlook was very dull indeed.

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