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Don Who? It’s best to forget Cervantes when it comes to the ballet version of Don Quixote, especially in Alexei Fadeyechev’s three-year old Bolshoi production, last seen here at Covent Garden in 2016, a few months after its Moscow premiere. The Don is reduced to a minor character in his own story, a feeble framing device who is too often forgotten. Instead, go for a fiesta of fiery dancing as Kitri defies her innkeeper father to marry the man of her dreams, penniless barber Basilio (aided by the hapless Don).

Igor Tsvirko (Basilio) and Margarita Shrainer (Kitri) © Natalia Voronova
Igor Tsvirko (Basilio) and Margarita Shrainer (Kitri)
© Natalia Voronova

Based on Alexander Gorsky’s treatment of Petipa, Fadeyechev’s version rattles along and with Pavel Sorokin in the pit, the performance soon cranked into top gear. After a blink-and-you-miss-it prologue, in which Don Quixote and his squire, Sancho Panza, head off on chivalrous adventures, we are in a Barcelona market square. Ludwig Minkus’ score is a cavalcade of castanets and biting trumpet solos, nearly as gaudy as Elena Zaitseva’s sunburst costumes. Street dancers and cape-twirling matadors soon jostle shoulders to claim dancing space, outdoing each other in extravagant ensemble numbers. The Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra tucked into Minkus’ zesty score with relish – and how great that soloists are credited in the cast slip.

Anna Tikhomirova (Street dancer) © Damir Yusupov
Anna Tikhomirova (Street dancer)
© Damir Yusupov

On the first evening of this four-performance run, the Bolshoi fielded many of its top guns in the secondary roles. Anna Tikhomirova danced a sassy street dancer opposite Ruslan Skvortsov’s bullish toreador Espada, insouciantly leaping between upturned knives and furiously fanning herself. Antonina Chapkin was a charming Queen of the Dryads in the Don’s dream sequence and Kristina Karasyova a feisty Mercedes. Alexei Loparevich made a craggy Don and Alexei Matrakhov an amusing Sancho Panza in their point-and-gesticulate roles. It’s a shame the Don’s attack on the windmills goes for so little.

Nikita Elikarov (Don Quixote) and Yulia Stepanova (“Dulcinea”) © Elena Fetisova
Nikita Elikarov (Don Quixote) and Yulia Stepanova (“Dulcinea”)
© Elena Fetisova

Fadeyechev’s throws in a few incongruous numbers by Vasily Soloviev-Sedoy which – musically – stick out like a sore thumb, especially the silly jig, although the Dance with Guitars does give Vera Borisenkova a terrific, back-bending, castanet-clicking solo. Fadeyechev’s other additions are more familiar; Napravnik’s Fandango and Zhelobinsky’s Gypsy Dance were both used by Carlos Acosta in his Royal Ballet version. Anna Balukova was particularly fiery in the Gypsy Dance here, propelled by Sorokin’s thrusting tempi.

But Don Q is principally about the love interest. Margarita Shrainer is petite, pert and poised as Kitri, not perhaps the naughtiest of Spanish minxes but teasingly persuasive. Her silvery footwork – never too flashy – was compact, with clockwork pirouettes and tidy chaîné turns in her variation as “Dulcinea” in the Don’s dream. Igor Tsvirko made a Basilio full of boyish charm and muscular leaps.

Margarita Shrainer (Kitri) and Igor Tsvirko (Basilio) © Natalia Voronova
Margarita Shrainer (Kitri) and Igor Tsvirko (Basilio)
© Natalia Voronova

Shrainer threw herself into Tsvirko’s arms with abandon in Act 2, and if their Act 1 lifts weren’t perfect, those in their Act 3 grand pas de deux were breathtaking. This is what the audience comes for in Don Quixote and Shrainer and Tsvirko didn’t disappoint: neat taqueté pointework, fluttering fan, and precise fouettées from her; towering double sauts de basque from him. After the pacy coda, there’s really nothing left to do other than end the ballet there and then, crowd thrilled. Job done, the Don a mere footnote, nodding his approval from the sidelines.

****1