LAST EDITED ON 29-Nov-99 AT 02:26 AM (GMT)
It has been ages since I last heard such a loud cheering from a ballet audience in Hong Kong as that on the first night of the Bolshoi Ballet's "Don Quixote" at Shatin Town Hall on Thursday. Even before the final curtain, the full house seemed to have been set ablaze by the technical fireworks of the two Bolshoi stars - Galina Stepanenko and Yuri Klevtsov - turning Stepanenko's show-off series of fouette turns into an applause act, somewhat to the surprise of the dancers.
Stepanenko actually replaced the indisposed prima ballerina Nina Ananiashvili in the role of Kitri on the opening night. Klevtsov did an ingenious, seldom seen jumping step with a slight rotation ending with both his legs together that electrified the audience. These two principals really came into their own in this final act. In the first two acts, Stepanenko's acting was rather monotonous and her dancing lacked spontaneity, but there was no denying her technical prowess. Klevtsov's portrayal of Basilio was decent.
The second cast for the third and final performance on Saturday - Svetlana Lunkina and Andrei Uvarov - was more stylish and satisfying.
What star quality the beautiful 20 year old Lunkina has! Lunkina, whose Giselle I admired greatly in London in July, has a lovely figure - wiry arms, long and thin legs, nice arched feet, and an effortless sky-high extension that can easily rival Sylvie Guillem's. Lunkina's radiant Kitri was simply ravishing. Despite some unsteadiness in the beginning, her dancing had such a delicious freshness that made it so joyous to behold. Her series of 'retires passes' in her variation in the grand pas de deux of Act 3 was executed with finesse and ease.
Andrei Uvarov's comic death in the Act 2 tavern scene so delighted the audience that it burst out clapping. The tall Uvarov is a splendid partner. His two one-handed lifts of Lunkina in Act 1 were so secure that he seemed to suspend her in the air for ages. Uvarov is a stylish virtuoso, and his dancing has a heroic scale. His series of 'coupe jetes en manege' in the coda of the grand pas de deux was most thrilling.
In the female supporting roles, I was impressed by both Maria Alexandrova and Nina Speranskaya in their solos in Act 3. Alexandrova, who was also the solo street dancer in Act 1, sailed through the air smoothly like a javelin, in typical Bolshoi fashion. Kitri's two friends Juanitta and Pikkilia were danced with spirit by Svetlana Uvarova and Anastassia Iatsenko.
As for the male supporting roles, the audience loved the endearing portrayal of the effete nobleman Gamache by Victor Alekhin. Vladimir Moiseev was a heroic Toreador. The title role of Don Quixote was sympathetically played by Andrei Sitnikov, and Alexander Petoukhov was his loyal sword-bearer.
This glorious production of "Don Quixote", which is new to me as I missed it in London in the summer, is based on the 1903 choreographic text by Alexander Gorsky. In fact the costumes were reconstructed based on the 1903 original designs as well. And Sergei Barkhin's beautiful sets evoke a scenic Mediterranean sea-shore in Act 1, and the Moorish architecture of Granada in Act 3.
This revival was supervised by the Bolshoi Ballet's artistic director Alexei Fadeyechev who also contributed some additional choreography. This highly entertaining production's largeness of scale is worthy of a spectacular West End musical!
What also impressed me this time was the generous ensemble spirit of the Bolshoi. It is a tribute to the whole-hearted passion of all the dancers. They succeeded to make the characters they portrayed - street dancers, toreadors - look larger-than-life, thus giving the drama a moral force, which is not often evident with other ballet companies. In Act 1, seldom have the ensemble dances, with one number smoothly succeeding another, radiated such joy. The toreadors, tambourine dancers were particularly impressive.
Act 2's tavern and Gypsy camp scenes also displayed the Bolshoi's strong character dancing tradition in the Spanish and Gypsy dances. Anna Antropova was a superb Gypsy soloist. Yuliana Malkhasyants was marvellous as Mercedes, and her back-bends were voluptuous. However I found the Don's dream scene in this act somewhat lacking in poetry, as it is set in bright daylight in this production instead of in the night mists as in other productions. Incidentally in this production, the dream scene takes place after the tavern and Gypsy scenes.
Hong Kong Sinfonietta, under the baton of the Bolshoi conductor Alexander Sotnikov, played Minkus' score vivaciously. All in all, the Bolshoi magic is still as potent as ever. May the Bolshoi return soon for more performances!