November 13, 2016
by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf
One wishes for better program coordination given the fact that three German companies, Stuttgart Ballet, the Aalto Ballet Essen and Semperoper Ballet are offering “Don Quixote” almost at the same time. Premieres in Essen and Dresden were even scheduled for the same day, November 5th. The versions in Stuttgart and Essen are traditional adaptions; in Dresden, artistic director Aaron S.Watkin came up with his own creation. The idea sprang from set and costume designer Patrick Kinmonth to strip the adventurous story of Alonso Quixano alias Don Quixote down to a mere framework on which a new, “more real and convincing story” was hung.
Together with choreographer Pontus Lidberg, Kinmonth, known for his general creative force, had already modernized “Raymonda” for the Royal Swedish Opera in 2014. The transfigured “Don Quixote”, in the main penned by him and Watkin, has a love triangle set in Francoist Spain in the 1950s at its core. Alonso Quixano (Christian Bauch) is a middle-aged welder in a small factory in Castilla-La Mancha. Each evening he and his female apprentice Juanita Sanchez (Melissa Hamilton) bury themselves in the tome “The Tales of Cervantes”. Imagining themselves as the brave chevalier Don Quixote and his squire Sancha Panza fantasy carries them off to adventurous journeys through which Doña Dulcinea (Sangeun Lee), Quixano’s fancied ideal of a woman, guides them.
In real life Quixano is secretly infatuated with Aldonza Lorenzo (Svetlana Gileva), the daughter of the factory owner. Yet Aldonza has fallen for Miguel Basilio (István Simon), a younger welder and also a toreador. Her father goes nuts when learning of the romance. In one of their imaginary journeys Doña Dulcinea leads Don Quixote and Sancha Pansa to a bullfighting arena, where Basilio has just triumphed over the bull. As typical for dreams a lot of irrational things happen. Quixano, dresses up as toreador and conquers a Minotaur, which, oh dear, turns out to be Basilio. Later, eight additional Minotaurs, all moving oddly effeminately, die for inexplicable reasons but are, like Basilio, revived by a group of caring women, look-alikes of Aldonza. Heavy-heartedly, Quixano eventually realizes that he will never win Aldonza’s love.
When Quixano and Juanita awaken from their dream trip on the workbench in the welding factory, reality turns out to be uncomfortable for everyone. Aldonza and Basilio flee her father’s tantrum, Quixano and Juanita are fired and due to bankruptcy the factory is closed soon thereafter.
In the second act Quixano and Juanita, roaming around, really begin to resemble their fantasy idols. Both encounter nuns, peasants, merchants, water carriers and an apparently kind-hearted shepherd (Clément Haenen) who at the earliest opportunity robs them. Even worse is their experience with a mob of gypsies camping at two windmills. Having been bullied by their chief, a testosterone fueled nasty piece of work (Fabien Voranger), and his possessive bitch (Courtney Richardson), the chivalric wayfarers end up being stowed in crop sacks and dispatched to a warehouse. But – what a miracle! – the warehouse turns out to be the former welding factory.
Quixano and Juanita, freed by the postman who for whatsoever reason delivers a suitcase crammed full with jewelry to them are suddenly solvent. They reopen the factory. All’s well that ends well. Aldonza and Basilio, meanwhile parents of twin babies (as elsewhere Watkin spares no details) reconcile with Aldonza’s father. All gather at a party in the bullfight arena celebrating their hero Quixano, who, at long last, notices Juanita’s love and abandons his dream woman Doña Dulcinea.
No less than three minds trimmed the libretto, Watkin, Kinmonth and dramaturg Stefan Ulrich. Though complicated on first sight, one could have made something out of it. The music, a blend of numbers from Ludwig Minkus’s original score dotted with bits of other of his ballet compositions and augmented with pieces by Manuel de Falla having a touch of Spain folk music, worked. Lighting was fine too. Thumbs up also for Kinmonth’s clever set. The welding factory had a workshop on the ground floor, a metal staircase leading to the dusty gallery office and movable storage and locker rooms used to shield scene changes. Of the two huge windmills the opera’s workshops can be proud, they even allowed for including a scene with human marionettes, a nice nod to Marius Petipa’s 1869 version. I’m wondering though why Watkin didn’t make more out of Don Quixote’s tilt at the windmill. Bauch ran up against it only once, then disappeared in the background. Kinmonth also included rod puppets. A very good idea worth experimenting more with!
The costumes were evocative of the time, but Doña Dulcinea and her female cohort deserved a more flattering headdress. Yet garish outfits and pomaded hair turned the toreadors into kitsch versions of true bullfighters. Bright pink stockings – were they meant to look like a bunch of flamingos in fancy dress?
So why didn’t this “Don Quixote” electrify the audience? Its first minutes looked promising indeed. Watkin scattered groups across the welding factory, everywhere something was going on: Aldonza sat over books in the office, Quixano was making sheep’s eyes at her, the craftsmen were working, Juanita instructed one of them and Basilio put on his toreador outfit. But with the story unfolding the pace faltered. That doesn’t apply to the pointless back-slapping and repeated greeting during the happy reunion at the welding factory, which was improvisation out of necessity. A bead chain from the suitcase full of jewelry had broken, requiring thorough sweeping of beads to make the floor safe for dance again. But other scenes stretched one’s patience.
Especially the group of toreadors had flimsy choreography, which no eager cape swiveling was able to hide. Except for Houston Thomas no one of those wanna-be toreadors seemed bold enough to face a bull, let alone supple enough to outmaneuver it. The feast in honor of Quixano as well as the final scene in which he sees reason need brave cuts. Also the pauses between the numbers intended for applause should be shortened as there was mainly lukewarm or no applause.
A major problem, and one that makes me wonder why of all things he opted for staging “Don Q.”, is that he neither has a dashing, high-flying, dazzling turning Basilio available nor a feisty Kitri, capable of mastering the intricate footwork, fluttering fan and castanets with proud elegance. It doesn’t help to re-name Kitri to Aldonza either. Everyone familiar with the ballet will expect a Kitri-like character next to Basilio. Presumably, Anna Merkulova and Jón Vallejo will bring the most temperament to these roles, but they are cast only once in a subsequent performance. But Gileva and Simon, who also danced the premiere, weren’t the ideal cast.
Gileva was convincing as an office worker fancying herself as a sexy Spanish woman – with the emphasis on fancying. She was overly challenged by the role’s technical demands. As Basilio, Simon tried to depict a real man but was most believable at the end, when being a new-fledged dad pushing the buggy. Some of his variations went successful, others were weak. His partnering wasn’t thoroughly smooth.
Hamilton, presumably the technically most versed ballerina of the company, won’t be in the second cast at all. Her Juanita was well-rounded but had surprisingly little to dance. Last season, Bauch had a main part in Alexander Ekman’s “COW”, in which he crawled on all fours imitating a dim-witted cow. Quixano / Don Quixote are no great minds or prince charmings either. He gave a decent performance; yet I hope, his career won’t get stuck in such kind of roles. The one whose presence was most felt was Lee as Doña Dulcinea. If only Watson hadn’t weakened her part by using her either as filler to bridge scene changes or as decoration when running out of ideas what to do with the music.
With “Don Quixote” Watson added the third piece choreographed by himself to this season’s repertory. The others are “Swan Lake” and “Nutcracker”. He is no exceptionally gifted choreographer. Why doesn’t he simply concentrate his energy on his administrative duties and direct his company on a respectable level?
|Links:||Website of Semperoper Ballet|
|Website of Silvano Ballone / Photographer|
|Photos:||1.||Svetlana Gileva (Aldonza Lorenzo), István Simon (Miguel Basilio) and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by Aaron S.Watkin, Semperoper Ballet|
|2.||István Simon (Miguel Basilio), Svetlana Gileva (Aldonza Lorenzo) and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by Aaron S.Watkin, Semperoper Ballet|
|3.||Svetlana Gileva (Aldonza Lorenzo) and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by Aaron S.Watkin, Semperoper Ballet|
|4.||Christian Bauch (Alonso Quixano / Don Quixote) and István Simon (Minotaur), “Don Quixote” by Aaron S.Watkin, Semperoper Ballet|
|5.||Svetlana Gileva (Aldonza Lorenzo) and István Simon (Miguel Basilio), “Don Quixote” by Aaron S.Watkin, Semperoper Ballet|
|6.||Svetlana Gileva (Aldonza Lorenzo) and István Simon (Miguel Basilio), “Don Quixote” by Aaron S.Watkin, Semperoper Ballet|
|7.||Svetlana Gileva (Aldonza Lorenzo), István Simon (Miguel Basilio) and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by Aaron S.Watkin, Semperoper Ballet|
|8.||Melissa Hamilton (Juanita Sanchez / Sancha Panza) and Christian Bauch (Alonso Quixano / Don Quixote), “Don Quixote” by Aaron S.Watkin, Semperoper Ballet|
|9.||Christian Bauch (Alonso Quixano / Don Quixote), Courtney Richardson (Wife of the Chief of the Gypsies), Fabien Voranger (Chief of the Gypsies) and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by Aaron S.Watkin, Semperoper Ballet|
|10.||Fabien Voranger (Chief of the Gypsies), Christian Bauch (Alonso Quixano / Don Quixote), Courtney Richardson (Wife of the Chief of the Gypsies) and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by Aaron S.Watkin, Semperoper Ballet|
|11||Melissa Hamilton (Juanita Sanchez / Sancha Panza) and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by Aaron S.Watkin, Semperoper Ballet|
|12.||Sangeun Lee (Doña Dulcinea del Toboso) and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by Aaron S.Watkin, Semperoper Ballet|
|13.||Ensemble, “Don Quixote” by Aaron S.Watkin, Semperoper Ballet|
|14.||Ensemble, “Don Quixote” by Aaron S.Watkin, Semperoper Ballet|
|15.||Ensemble, “Don Quixote” by Aaron S.Watkin, Semperoper Ballet|
|16.||Svetlana Gileva (Aldonza Lorenzo), István Simon (Miguel Basilio) and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by Aaron S.Watkin, Semperoper Ballet|
|17.||Christian Bauch (Alonso Quixano / Don Quixote), Ralf Arndt (Señor Lorenzo), Carola Schwab (Señora Lorenzo) and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by Aaron S.Watkin, Semperoper Ballet|
|all photos © Silvano Ballone 2016|