Ballet review: Don Quixote, Arts Centre Melbourne

In its 60th anniversary year, The Australian Ballet is at the top of its form.

Don Quixote, a famed ballet of extravagant proportions has exploded onto the State Theatre stage this week. In David Hallberg’s opening night address, audiences were reminded of the 1973 dance film, by Rudolf Nureyev and Robert Helpmann, filmed in a sweltering space at Essendon Airport.

Hallberg painted an amusing picture, telling the audience that the movie extras were found at the Queen Victoria Market, along with fresh produce for props, which created a stench by the end of filming.

Don Quixote, he said, is a ‘tongue in cheek’ affair, as the orchestra began with Ludwig Minkus’ triumphant score and the curtains rose to Adam Bull as the story’s protagonist, in pantomime beard and breeches… 

The set is lavish and evokes a sun-soaked Spanish seaside village. The props are danced with expertly, as many technical feats are managed, such as the opening and closing of fans in perfect unison. A fake horse is also carried on the backs of two dancers, much to the amusement of the audience. The Australian Ballet’s Don Quixote delights in its own excessiveness.

The production abounds with ‘ah moments’, such as when Chengwu Guo, dancing as the witty Basilio, bounds onto the stage in air splits, throwing and catching a mandolin, or when Ako Kondo, as Kitri, performs the infamous ’32 fouettés.’

A circus and a delight for the senses, the ensemble is gorgeously in time, and the show keeps pace and energy throughout. Nathan Brook is particularly striking as a long-limbed, pink stocking-clad toreador, Espada. As the Street Dancer, Amy Harris shows off feet that are as pliable as soft-serve ice-cream and Sharni Spencer exhibits her impressive extensions as a glittering, golden Queen of the Dryads. The costumes and set are as dazzling as the dance moves in this multi-textural dance extravaganza. Velvet skirts, ornate beading, boat sails and open flames are all part of the spectacle. 

This is a feisty, hyper, spicy production showing off the technical talents and passion of The Australian Ballet in its 60th year. There are enough jumps in each section to make your shins ache. The coaching of world-renowned ballerina, Sylvie Guillem, has polished the dancing like a rare dazzling gem. The grand pas de deux between Kondo and Guo has beautiful synergy, as she runs and lands in his arms, and falls into strong balances, demonstrative of trust and practice.  

Read: Book review: The Bell of the World, Gregory Day

Through the pageantry of Don Quixote, The Australian Ballet is showing, on its significant anniversary year, that it is top of the league in technical skill and ardour.

Please note the cast list changes depending on date of performance.

Don Quixote, The Australian Ballet
Arts Centre Melbourne

Don Quixote will be performing until 25 March 2023.

Leila Lois is a dancer and writer of Kurdish and Celtic heritage. Her poetry, essays and reviews have been published in Australia, New Zealand, USA and Canada by Southerly Journal, LA Review of Books, Honey Literary Journal, Right Now, Delving Into Dance and more.