wed 24/07/2024

Don Quixote, Mikhailovsky Ballet, London Coliseum | reviews, news & interviews

Don Quixote, Mikhailovsky Ballet, London Coliseum

Don Quixote, Mikhailovsky Ballet, London Coliseum

A perfectly paced production of a demented old warhorse

Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev in the Mikhailovsky's 'Don Quixote'Photos courtesy the Mikhailovsky Ballet

If you want virtuosity, there’s only one place to be in London right now, and that’s watching the Mikhailovsky’s fine production of that demented old warhorse, Don Quixote, with Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev in the leads.

Don Quixote is one of the 19th-century’s pastiche pleasures, half-pantomime, half-burlesque, all razzmatazz. Choreographed by a Russian (actually, over time, six Russians), set in a Spain that never was, with music by an Austro-Hungarian, the last thing the ballet is is coherent. Instead one tiny episode from the original Cervantes novel, the story of a barber and his love, is blown up to take over the evening, and every now and again, seemingly on a whim, the Don and Sancho Panza wander through.

The famous pas de deux, often danced as a gala piece on its own, is from the last act, and is the culmination of a series of virtuosic show-stoppers, each more staggering than the next. Vasiliev’s macho little bantam-rooster of a performance makes short work of some amazing leaps; Osipova, a famous turner, brings the house down with an equally astonishing series of fouettés. But what makes them artists, rather than merely gymnasts, is that every linking section was taken equally seriously. The blistering ferocity of Vasiliev’s jetés, the dazzling light speed of Osipova’s chainé turns – the bits where they could have taken a breather, but didn’t – are what make them special.

Mikhail Messerer, the company’s ballet master, is also a master of revival, and has sympathetically staged several of the classics for this company. Don Q is not easy to get right. Treat it as opera buffo without the singing, and you’ve killed the humour; concentrate too much on the dance episodes and the story fragments. Messerer has judged the tempo to perfection, allowing us a bit of a romp here, a taste of character-dancing there, and showcased the company’s superstars without allowing their virtuosity to overshadow the other company members’ very real talents.

For equally delightful is Alexander Omar’s gypsy king, Veronica Ignatyeva’s Cupid, and, especially, Ekaterina Borchenko’s Queen of the Dryads, her long, elegant legs and beautiful line a perfect foil for the bouncy little Osipova. The company moved smoothly between the demi-charactère of the Spanish acts, the classical rigour of the vision scene, and the courtly world of the last act, no easy transitions to make. In this they were aided by Pavel Bubelnikov, the conductor and musical director, who oversaw a committed performance of what is, it must be confessed, a pretty ropey score.

Messerer has also added some original and interesting elements, such as the children’s puppet show that mimes the story of the Don’s quest for Dulcinea, in brusque marionette tempo and silvery-white costume, an appropriately ghostly moment among the teeth, eyebrows and tambourines that flash and dazzle for the rest of the evening.

Watch Osipova in Don Quixote



The company need to watch that they do not become rent a corps for stars.

The audience experience is not just what happens on stage - cold weather and poor public transport don't help - but judging from overheard conversations in the interval this time the company has caused some irritation when people who saved up to buy a full price top ticket in advance discover that someone who has paid for a back balcony seat is moved down to the dress circle to sit next to them. It also devalues the business and future visits as people now wait for the discount voucher offers or buy a cheap ticket in the expectation of being upgraded. Not having enough cast lists also devalues the artists as most don't know who everyone is. But of couse the stars lift the spirits so all round a good night out but it could have been better.

The puppet show is standard in the Mariinsky version of this ballet, not an addition by Messerer. Nureyev also incorporates it in his production.

what do critics (often self appointed or appointed by friends) know? Thankfully reviews don't really influence ticket sales but it is sometimes interesting to read opinions which one may share or not.

Was the queen of dyads borchenko as above or kosheleva per the cast list? excellent in any case

stage management was atrocious – unacceptable noise from on stage during a pause and Act One sets did not use the full width of the too could have been better this follows poor stage managemen in Giselle but when the were last here it was so much better in Giselle

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