It’s often best to critique a dance performance by gasp factor and The Imperial Russian Ballet Company’s Don Quixote delivered, adorned with all the Spanish trimmings, forbidden love and the odd wine-bottle maraca.

Don Quixote © Imperial Russian Ballet
Don Quixote
© Imperial Russian Ballet
Nariman Bekzhanov whipped himself around in repeated double-turn jumps in the air, and Lina Seveliova executed 32 fouette’s en pointe. There was even a moment that induced breath-holding – a partner hold that defied gravity as Seveliova wrapped her body around one side of Bekzhanov’s hips, dipping her chin centimetres from the floor – both dancers hands free.

Don Quixote at The Illawarra Performing Arts Centre was all about the details. From hair curled on the dancers foreheads and cheekbones, to the layers of lace-lined frills and gold embellishments on the costumes and the distant windmills beyond the township backdrop. The three-act Don Quixote, directed by Gediminas Taranda, had a sense of rhythm and urgency with the sound of fans flicking, clicks, and heels clacking on tabletops, mixed with moments of cheeky humour. Don Quixote, played by Daniil Kolmin, is a laugh from the start, appearing in the prologue in a glittery silver knight uniform with a moustache and spiked silver hair to boot. Throughout the acts he provides comic relief, as I’m bemused by his reason for being in the scene. He nearly wipes out other cast members with his lengthy sword and never fails to lose his stern, amusing expression and stick-like strut.

Don Quixote © Imperial Russian Ballet
Don Quixote
© Imperial Russian Ballet

My eyes are diverted to clever moments among characters. Kisses shared behind the strategic placement of a fiddle and the boisterous, beer-bellied father animatedly explaining how he caught and killed a fish by dramatically whacking it on the table. Played by Vitautas Taranda, the father is brilliantly contrasted with the poise of the ballerinas, his heavy-footed movements and mannerisms indicate he is a man who washes rarely and snorts often. There are subtle jokes including the male dancer dressed in a yellow ladies’ gown hiding under a hat and gossiping and parading with the women. I wasn’t sure if this was something the audience was supposed to notice or an improvised inside joke, as the glances and giggles were shared among dancers from across stage.

Don Quixote © Imperial Russian Ballet
Don Quixote
© Imperial Russian Ballet

Lina Seveliova plays a graceful, delicate Kitri, while showcasing superior strength and control. A standout was also Stephanie Goldhaun who had captivating stage presence and was a delight to watch, executing her solo as Cupid with an ear-to-ear smile. I only learnt later that this was possibly because she was performing where it all began for her – in Wollongong – before joining the company as the first Australian to tour with the Imperial Russian Ballet. I couldn’t fault her delicately soft landings and elegance in gliding across stage almost entirely en pointe. The long ivy flower swing suspended from the ceiling during this scene and tutu lines of baby pink, blue and coral were poised and fairytale-like. A stark contrast to the shoulder shimmies and constant off-centre weight shifting of the gypsies at the start of Act II, as they twirled and dipped in long flowing skirts. A feisty female duo battled it out in the tavern as the show evolved into a lively festivity.

Don Quixote © Imperial Russian Ballet
Don Quixote
© Imperial Russian Ballet

While the imaginative narrative is undoubtedly difficult to grasp, it’s clear Kitri and Basilio’s love is blessed in the end, celebrated by stomping atop tables, clapping and a chorus of ‘Olé!’s thrown in for good measure. I feel a longing (other than to be lifted effortlessly into the air by male soloist Nariman Bekzhanov), to drink and be merry with the cast – surely a response the company envisaged.

****1