Hong Kong audiences have in the past two decades experienced a fair share of Petipa’s classic Don Quixote productions – with the visits of the Mariinsky Ballet, Paris Opéra Ballet, the Bolshoi and American Ballet Theater... but the Hong Kong Ballet has never before staged this classic, till last weekend.

This new production is staged by Nina Ananiashvili, former star ballerina of both the Bolshoi Ballet and American Ballet Theatre. She has cut the three acts –observed in most productions of Don Quixote – into two, the whole performance lasting only two hours. Does this classical warhorse suit this 40-strong troupe? The result turns out to be better than expected.

Act 1, as in most other versions, ends with the innkeeper Lorenzo’s daughter Kitri running off with her lover, the barber Basilio. And Act 2 contains all of the other four scenes – the gypsy encampment to where the lovers have escaped, the vision scene, in which Don dreams of Kitri as an impersonation of his ideal Dulcinea, the tavern scene in which Basilio fakes suicide to trick Lorenzo to agree to his marrying Kitri, and the final wedding divertissements.

the Hong Kong Ballet in <i>Don Quixote</i> © Conrad Dy-Liacco
the Hong Kong Ballet in Don Quixote
© Conrad Dy-Liacco

The choreographic imprint remains rooted in Petipa's legacy. Of course, some cuts are inevitably done to suit the limited resources of Hong Kong Ballet. Her editing is overall very judicious and she has retained the most popular moments. In Act 1, we still have the dances of the toreadors and Espada, and the street dancer’s solo ending with her zig-zagging between the knives. The choreography for Act 2's dream and Act 3's grand pas de deux are also still intact. However the small corps de ballet of dryads in the vision scene, – despite the extra body made by students – makes the stage look rather sparse. The Queen of the Dryads' solo has inexplicably been changed; a manège of piqués substituing  her spectacular series of Italian fouettes. 

The – justifiable –cuts are mostly character dances,  which are too taxing for the resources of the Hong Kong company. The puppet play (gypsie scene) which is always such a delight with the Vaganova students in the Mariinsky (A. Gorsky) version, has been cut. Mercedes’ solo and the Oriental dance of the Tavern scene, which are so memorable in the Russian versions (both Gorsky's for the Mariinsky and Alexei Fadeyechev’s for the Bolshoi) have been excised. But at least the wonderful fandango is still intact in the final divertissements scene, in which Ananiashvili has also added a bolero duet.

Act 2 is now far too rushed. Another interval is really necessary after the Don’s beautiful dream scene in order to provide a break in the audience’s mood before the more dramatic tavern scene.  I don’t comprehend Ananiashvili’s logic for cutting this second interval. It makes the tavern scene disappointingly brief, and it’s no surprise that the denouement after the fake suicide does not have the dramatic impact it ought to have.The sets, by Thomas Mika, are simple and functional, though the facades of the houses in the town square look pretty artificial.  His costume designs are better, and pretty attractive overall.  

The Hong Kong Ballet in <i>Don Quixote</i> © Conrad Dy-Liacco
The Hong Kong Ballet in Don Quixote
© Conrad Dy-Liacco
The highlight of this new production was undoubtedly the principal cast, with guest artists Anna Tsygankova (Dutch National Ballet) and Mathhew Golding (who has recently joined the Royal Ballet from DNB) dancing the leads in two of the eight performances scheduled for this first run.  Their partnership was splendid. Tsygankova was a sunny and radiant Kitri, well matched by Golding’s charm and handsomeness.  They are fully in tune with each other. Golding’s two one-handed lifts of Tsygankova in Act 1 sustained and solid.  The flashy fireworks-like virtuosity of their the grand pas de deux was breathtaking from start to finish, and they were loudly applauded by an excited audience.  Golding’s dizzying pirouettes, Tsygankova’s multiple fouettes, and her dazzling diagonal of piqués were just some of the highlights. 

It’s a real treat for Hong Kong audiences, who hadn’t seen ballet stars of this calibre since Svetlana Zakharova and David Hallberg guested in La Scala’s Giselle in February (during this year’s Hong Kong Arts Festival).  The Hong Kong Ballet troupe gave it their all too.  Among the supporting performances, Zhang Si Yuan was outstanding as the street dancer in Act 1 and in a variation in the final divertissements scene.  Kostyantyn Keshyshev was dignified as the Don himself; while Jonathan Spigner was hilarious as the foppish Gamache.