The fireworks – when they came – were explosive, Viktoria Tereshkina and Kimin Kim igniting the Royal Opera House stage in a frenzy of effervescent footwork. Tereshkina whipped out her fouettés and Kim’s double tours en l'air fizzed as Kitri, the innkeeper’s daughter, and Basilio, the fresh-faced barber, celebrated their wedding with the grandest pas de deux. Ovation done and dusted, the eponymous Don Quixote blesses the couple and then… curtain. In his 1901 restaging based on Petipa, Alexander Gorsky certainly ends Don Quixote with a bang, yet for much of the evening the Mariinsky Ballet’s production underwhelmed.

Viktoria Tereshkina (Kitri) and Kimin Kim (Basilio) © Jennie Walton
Viktoria Tereshkina (Kitri) and Kimin Kim (Basilio)
© Jennie Walton

The Bolshoi – the last Russian company seen at this address – also opened its tour with Don Quixote and its brand of bigger–faster– louder arguably suits this brash, sunlit fiesta of dance better than the Mariinsky’s tasteful approach, which is less aggressive, almost subtle in tone. I’m not sure Don Q requires much subtlety. The Mariinsky’s mothballed staging is a handicap, the sets pallid and pastel-coloured where something more vibrant is in order to match Ludwig Minkus’ boisterous score, a flurry of castanets and stomping Spanish rhythms. Costumes are bright but the comedy noses feel dated. In Act 2 the windmill creaks, Don Quixote’s attack feebly going for nothing.

It’s not helped that Gorsky reduced the Prologue to less than a minute, meaning we never learn who Don Quixote really is and why he seeks chivalrous adventure. Instead, he wanders absent-mindedly into each scene with his trusty servant Sancho Panza, gesticulates gallantly, then wanders off. It’s a sketchy portrait of Cervantes’ knight, who only gets a walk-on part in his own ballet. Instead, the libretto is based on the second part of Cervantes’ long-winded novel, the episode involving Quiteria (Kitri) and her lover Basilio. They outwit her father and his plans to marry her off to the weatlhy, but foppish Camacho (Gamache). Don Quixote is the voice of love and reason prevails as Kitri’s father eventually relents and allows her to wed Basilio.

Viktoria Tereshkina (Kitri) © Natasha Razina
Viktoria Tereshkina (Kitri)
© Natasha Razina

Tereshkina’s Kitri is sassy and confident, haughty where she could be more kittenish. Yet she transformed into something softer and more delicate as the vision of Dulcinea (the object of Don Quixote's delusional desires) in the Kingdom of the Dryads. She was partnered by the terrific Korean Kimin Kim, the first Mariinsky principal to be born outside Russia. His boyish charm won the audience over from his first disarming smile, while his athleticism dazzled. He made their freeze-frame one-arm lifts in Act 1 look easy and his fake suicide was wittily executed. The grand pas de deux is a lengthy showpiece which Tereshkina and Kim tore into spectacularly.

The other highlights also came late in the evening. Olga Belik was a smouldering Mercedes, her skirt-fanning, back-bending solo enveloped by some twirltastic toreador cape work. Konstantin Zverev was a noble Espada, the bullfighter, and Ekaterina Chebykina was a graceful Queen of the Dryads. Soslan Kulaev lent nobility to the Don, while Alexander Fyodorov made the most of the comedic opportunities afforded Sancho Panza. The Mariinsky corps wasn’t always faultless, particularly in a scrappy start to Act 3.

Boris Gruzin, no stranger to the Covent Garden pit, guided the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra safely through Minkus’ score, though – like much of the dusty staging – it lacked élan and a little rowdiness.