Don Quixote is deeply rooted in the Bolshoi Ballet's DNA. It naturally breathes what the company is famous for. Yet for Vaganova-trained Olga Smirnova and 'white tights dancer' Denis Rodkin diving into Cervantes-inspired characters was far from obvious. They are both danseurs nobles in their mid-twenties. Hers is a Russian steely elegance. His are Slavic Prince Charming features. Surely, on paper, they lacked the cheeky sense of humour that is typical of picturesque ballets. But Smirnova and Rodkin, considered bright hopes for the company, metamorphosed into irresistible common folks for one night. The opening night speeded the Royal Opera House's heartbeat to an insane level of tachycardi: the Bolshoi is coming back at its best with a fast and furious Don Quixote.

Olga Smirnova and Denis Rodkin, <i>Don Quixote</i> © John Hudson
Olga Smirnova and Denis Rodkin, Don Quixote
© John Hudson
Petipa's vivid recollections of his years in the South of France might have influenced his take on Cervantes' novel. That was in 1869, when the Bolshoi was overshadowed by its St Petersburg rival. At first sight, there's nothing in common between Moscow's cold marble and Barcelona's warm taverns. Looking closer, Don Quixote is Muscovite to the core and Alexei Fadeyechev intended to rekindle the embers of his homemade ballet with a brand new staging and a few steps added to the choreography. After all, it takes extravagant charisma to embody Kitri's wildness and Basil's nerve. Besides, who else than the Bolshoi can show off such a wide range of virtuoso dancers? Throughout the ballet it appeared that everyone in the company (from spectacular street dancer Anna Tikhomirova to head Gypsy Anna Antropova) encapsulated the fiery spirit of Don Quixote, repeatedly making the audience applaud with raw enthusiasm. Although it was hard not to focus on the soloists only, one could only be in awe of the corps, which provided a colorful setting for the story. The company's dancing is big and generous, adding to the sense of Mediterranean warmth.  

For the many, Olga Smirnova is a born Odette. A natural Aurora. Jean-Christophe Maillot's 'hors du temps', as he says, muse. Opening the Bolshoi tour – one that comes with heavy responsibilities – was a major sign of confidence from Makhar Vaziev. The incoming ballet director of the Bolshoi said he saw "a lot of playful mischievousness in her", calling her a sunny dancer. And his first impressions proved accurate. Even though Smirnova lacks Natalia Osipova's roaring bravura, hers is a radiant Kitri.

Denis Rodkin was just as unexpected in Basil's outfit as Smirnova was in the innkeeper's daughter character. He won over young girls' hearts as a red-draped prince in The Nutcracker. His handsome Slavic face, topped with princely blond hair, could have stood in the way of his Basil's debut. Yet what his physics lacked, he made up for in improved acting skills and a strong technique. And what an entertainer he turns out to be! The fake suicide scene caused a serious case of the giggles in the audience. Basil might be the part in which Rodkin proved to be over the 'I'm good-looking and I know it' attitude.

Denis Rodkin and Olga Smirnova in <i>Don Quixote</i> © John Hudson
Denis Rodkin and Olga Smirnova in Don Quixote
© John Hudson

In the Dulcinea dream – a ballet blanc reminiscence – the Bolshoi Ballet reminded us of how beautifully versatile the dancers can be. Dryads were as ethereal as swans, picturing an unattainable and idealized fantasy. As Queen of the Dryads, the Bolshoi's latest gem – another Vaganova girl – rivalled Smirnova. A rising soloist, whom Vaziev is increasingly entrusting with roles, Yulia Stepanova is a name to remember. Facing Stepanova's imperial presence and elongated lines, Daria Khokhlova's offered a clever contrast with a vigorous Cupid.

Another highlight was the Bolshoi's orchestra, conducted by Pavel Sorokin. The fast tempo delivered a rush of adrenaline on both sides of the orchestra pit. And it's dangeroulsy addictive. The scandal-ridden days of the Bolshoi Theatre are behind.