Birmingham Royal Ballet’s new production of the classic Don Quixote will put a smile on faces and bring a touch of summer sunshine, promises Company director Carlos Acosta.
The show is a firm favourite of Carlos’s and he is convinced it will also be hugely popular with audiences. Created by one of history’s most renowned choreographers Marius Petipa to music by Ludwig Minkus, it was premiered in 1869 and has been a key part of the world ballet repertoire ever since.
“Don Quixote is the best ballet to attend if you are not a ballet connoisseur,” Carlos says. “If you don’t know anything about ballet this is a great chance to learn something about it by watching Don Quixote. It appeals to family audiences, it is great for children because the story is easy to follow."
“It’s very sunny and people will laugh a lot. The world of ballet is so full of tragedies, Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet etcetera, they are all tragedies but in Don Quixote nobody dies, it’s a happy tale.
“The ballet is very exotic, it provides escapism into this amazing world of colour and the music has an amazing Spanish flavour. When it’s raining and cold then you want to come and see Don Quixote because it’s a sunshine ballet. It’s a great show - when you’ve seen it, you leave on a high.”
The ballet is based on Spain’s most famous novel – Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote which follows the adventures of the knight Don Quixote and his trusty servant Sancho Panza. The ballet focuses on one of the tales in the book – that of the young lovers Kitri and Basilio whose hopes to marry risk being thwarted by Kitri’s father who has other plans. But with Don Quixote a firm believer in true love, maybe he can help the young couple find happiness.
For Carlos, Don Quixote has always been a special work. He performed an excerpt from the ballet to win the Gold Medal at the prestigious Prix de Lausanne at the age of 16. Success at the international dance competition catapulted the Cuban teenager onto the world stage, launching a career which saw him dance in theatres across the globe.
“Don Quixote is the ballet I have performed the most,” he recalls. “I’ve been performing it since I was 16, winning competitions. And we share the Spanish heritage. I have a lot of knowledge in terms of the role and the production, having participated in productions all over the world.
“I performed this with the Mariinsky Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Houston Ballet and National Ballet of Cuba. And two productions with the Royal Ballet, they had the Baryshnikov ballet and then that was replaced by the Nureyev production, and after that I brought mine.”
In doing so, Carlos was following in the footsteps of some of history’s most famous dancers who have tackled the part of Basilio.
“If you look at the heroes of the ballet world, Rudolf Nureyev, Mikhail Baryshnikov, these stars, they all shined in this role, it’s a role that everyone wants to incorporate in their repertoire and shine as well.”
Carlos spent nearly 17 years dancing with the Royal Ballet and it was there he created a new version of Don Quixote in 2014 – a production which was both critically acclaimed and a hit with audiences. When he took over as director at Birmingham Royal Ballet in January 2020 he was keen to bring Don Quixote into the Company’s repertoire.
“This ballet is really popular with dancers,” he says. “It is a ballet for virtuosos. If you really have aspirations to become the best ballet dancer you can be, then you must have this ballet under your belt.
“Also it’s a production which gives opportunities to a large ballet company because there are a lot of roles for everyone in the company - for soloists, for corps members and principals. It stretches the company a lot.”
“The repertory of a company determines the growth of the dancers up to a certain extent and this is the kind of ballet that really improves dancers’ technique. It will show off the company’s talents dancing matadors, gypsies, dryads, fishermen, villagers and lots of other roles.”
But Carlos was keen to ensure this Don Quixote was a version just for Birmingham Royal Ballet.
“For this new production, I wanted to give it a completely new take and a new look to the one that I gave to the Royal Ballet so that Birmingham has its own. It’s a new production with new concept and designs, re-orchestration, new elements of the choreography, new colours, a whole new palette."
“This one is lighter and much more tourable than the Royal Ballet Don Quixote. Predominantly Birmingham Royal Ballet is a touring company so this has to be able to fit comfortably in smaller spaces like Plymouth and Southampton that we normally tour to. But at the same time it feels grand and lush and beautifully up to date. It’s lighter and easier to move but it is still an amazing production.”
And Carlos has huge ambitions for the show into the future.
“We definitely want to take it abroad when we can. That is one of the key reasons for making this new production so much easier to tour."
“We are also looking for and exploring possibilities with co-producers in other countries. We have had interest from some other companies in terms of sharing the production and we would love to take it everywhere.
“From this point on, everything we produce will be tourable. We have given a lot of thought to that because all those productions need to be light but look like a million-pound production. I’m very keen for Birmingham Royal Ballet to have ballets in our repertoire which nobody else has, so that when we are performing the work, the only opportunity for people to see it is through watching Birmingham Royal Ballet.”
Carlos and the Company had originally planned to premiere the new work in 2020 but the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing lockdown meant the show has been delayed more than 18 months.
“The waiting around has been a challenge,” Carlos admits. “We were due to perform it in Birmingham and had already started work on it. We had started rehearsing and casting, we even started making some of the props and the design had gone into production and then there was the pandemic. Now we have had to start all over again because we have undergone changes in the company so it’s almost like a new beginning."
“But in some ways it has also been an advantage because now we have had more time to explore the production and the shape it’s going to take. There is a big enthusiasm in the company to bring this show to audiences."
“It will be a huge relief when we finally bring this to the stage. We’ll all have to have a glass of champagne as we’ve been working on this and waiting for it for so long. To bring this production to life we have had to do so much planning and, at the time of the pandemic, it was difficult to determine how and where we could take the show, not knowing how things were going to turn out. So finally, when we manage to deliver this production on stage for audiences it will be something to celebrate.”
Birmingham Royal Ballet perform Don Quixote from 10 February to 19 March 2022. Full details at brb.org.uk/Don-Quixote
Image: Carlos Acosta, Mathias Dingman and Momoko Hirata; Photo: Ty Singleton