A true king of ballet, Russian dancer and choreographer Vladimir Vasiliev, has turned 80 this year. The Tokyo Ballet probably couldn’t have thought of a better way to celebrate than bringing back on stage his production of “Don Quijote”, created for the company nineteen years ago to huge critical acclaim.
Filmed with four cameras in full HD last September 2020 with tight security measures, this milestone of the classical repertoire is now available on-demand (check the link below) until Monday, January 11.
A good way to celebrate the Holiday Season at the end of this tough year during which theatres were often closed to reduce the spread of the COVID-19.
The ballet itself is a delight indeed and mixes Russian tradition and an opulent modernity. Vasiliev created a two-act version of “Don Quijote” without cutting parts of the story, but opting for a seventy-minute long Act One that includes Kitri’s and Basile’s escape and the Dryads scene as well.
Don Quijote, here, meets Kitri during the prologue and falls in love with her, imagining her as his beloved Dulcinea – a kind of oneiric vision, of course. As everyone knows, his role will be fundamental in allowing she and Basile to fulfil their love dream.
The costumes, designed by Raphail Volski, are a triumph of warm colours – red, golden yellow, light brown, soft orange, with Kitri often wearing a stylish black corsage and a flounced yellow skirt while Basile is in black clothes and, by contrast, the toreador Espada shows off a white and gold outfit.
Espada is given a slightly longer stage time in this version – he and the street dancer accompany the two leads to the gypsy camp, where he even dances again.
However, the undisputed stars of the ballet are Kitri and Basile, extraordinarily interpreted by First soloist Akira Akiyama and Principal Yasuomi Akimoto.
Akiyama is a feast for the eyes. She is high-flying and explosive, both elegant and glittering – her dancing has a bright edge and she is like a firework as she shapes each jump in her Act One variations, yet at the same time she infuses her performance with a grace that gives Kitri somehow a kind of new temperament. Her fouettés at the end of the grand pas are nearly intoxicating. She is undoubtfully a ballerina to keep an eye on, with the potential of a superstar.
Akimoto proves again to be not just a dancer of noteworthy charisma, but a subtle actor as well. His Russian training is evident – the sharp precision of his turns and his way of landing are impressive. Yet there’s something buttery in his movements that makes them even more grand, as if a kind of Japanese influence had polished his technique even more. No Tokyo dancer I have seen phrases better than him. In addition, the partnership between him and Akiyama works remarkably well: in the wedding pas de deux there’s a euphoric tenderness between the two lovers that really makes sparks fly.
Principal Arata Miyagawa dances Espada’s solos and duets with feverish vitality, classier than impetuous. Soloist Nanako Nihei is a jaunty street dancer, while Soloist Miyuki Nakagawa and Second soloist Kurumi Kato are surprisingly sweet as Kitri’s friends.
While our fantasies and hopes remain precariously suspended after so many uncertain months, in some ways the Tokyo Ballet’s “Don Quijote” helps us to hope in a better new year – it is like a breath of fresh air.
By Alessandro Bizzotto