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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

DON QUIXOTE (article first published : 2002-08-2)

Russian-born former principal clarinetist with the now defunct National Symphony Orchestra, Edouard Miasnikov, opened his own artistic agency after the NSO forced to fold. His aim was to widen the cultural exchange between Russia and South Africa and this he has achieved in no small measure.

Since 1992, he has introduced top Russian conductors, musicians and soloists to South Africa as well as the Moscow State Classical Ballet, the Bolshoi Ballet, the Russian National Ballet and the Russian State Kuban Cossack Dance Company.

The Russian National Ballet has now visited South Africa three times and the latest tour, which took in Durban for its final performances, presented the classic three-act ballet Don Quixote.

With music by Ludwig Minkus and choreography by Marius Petipa, this version of the ballet dealing with Miguel Cervantes eccentric hero was first premiered in Moscow in December 1869, over 130 years ago. It follows Petipa’s love of “grand spectacle” and contains classic as well as Spanish styles.

However, the ballet is rather fragmented and unbalanced with most of the visual excitement taking place in the first half. And there’s not a windmill in sight! But Durban ballet fans starved of their favourite dance discipline responded with delight. Also, Don Quixote does contain the famous wedding Pas de Deux which is performed on numerous occasions worldwide wherever ballet is showcased.

Principal dancers, the reed-slim and graceful Tatiana Smirnova as Kitri and mercurial Mikhail Bessmertnov as Basil, worked well together and were ably supported by Olga Grigorieva and Valery Shumilov. Suitably lugubrious as the ever-searching Don Quixote was Evgeni Doronin while Alexandre Roupychev was a delight as Sancho Panza, always a steal of a part. Viktoria Parkhomenko was an enchanting Cupid.

The costumes were highly attractive and sumptuous from the charming multi-layered skirts worn by the townsfolk in Act 1 to the dramatic Spanish styled gowns with their latticed sleeves or the elegant spangled tutus in the Palace scene.

Don Quixote was the third major international production to play the Playhouse Opera in two weeks – all with high ticket prices - and audiences flocked to them all. This was extremely heartening and hopefully shows a return to the City Centre of theatre-goers with money to spend. Bears out my belief that if Durban audiences actually want to see something, they’ll go – despite the price of tickets and their misconceptions that the city centre is an unfriendly place at night.

Next up from Edouard Miasnikov is the Russian State Kuban Cossack Dance Company due to appear in the Playhouse on October 8 and 9 with a further performance on October 10 at the Hilton College Theatre. Booking is now open at Computicket or call 011 340-8000 or 083 915-8000. – Caroline Smart




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