For a dance style that spends so much time on its toes, the ballet Don Quixote’s prologue feels surprisingly flat. Ludwig Minkus’s music is not interesting enough to engage an audience during the long, unfilled time between the solo from Don Quixote’s (Barry Bryce) imaginary love interest, and the next piece of action, in which Don Quixote’s servant Sancho (Laura Perez-Klein) is pursued by townspeople after having stolen a hen. Director Jenny Tang’s decision not to significantly change the lighting between these two pieces of action also means that there is no way for the audience to know which is imaginary and which is real. The acting for the rest of the scene, in which Sancho and Don Quixote prepare for Don Quixote’s knightly mission hundreds of years after this has gone out of fashion, feels forced, meaning an exchange that is supposed to be comedic is instead painfully embarrassing.
However, the ballet improves immensely from the first act onwards, mainly due to the amazing talents of the dancers. Here the story focuses on the lovers Kitri (Jasmine Coomber) and Basilio (Panagiotis Boutris), forbidden to marry by Kitri’s father Lorenzo (Samuel Whittome). Coomber and Boutris have a wonderful on-stage chemistry, and make it clear through their energy and enthusiasm how much they enjoy dancing and being on stage. They are both fantastic dancers, performing lifts and moves that would impress me even in a professional company. Their acting is highly comedic, meaning that Basilio’s pretend suicide, during which Basilio cannot keep himself from kissing Kitri whilst pretending to be dead, makes the audience chuckle. Other cast members stand out: Gamache (Griffin Twemlow), the man whom Kitri’s father would prefer that she marry, is just the right level of disgustingly arrogant to be funny, and Perez-Klein’s bumbling, flat-footed style of dancing is revealed just to be in-character when she shows off her true dancing ability through a series of acrobatic jumps and cartwheels in the first act.
Although the set seems more like a modern suburb than a seventeenth-century Spanish village, this is easy to forget once it is coloured and energised by the cast. It also works well during the interlude in a countryside gypsy encampment, as the ‘houses’ can easily be turned around to make rocks. The costume design is also extremely effective: the costumes are simple but pretty, and the bright colours, red and yellow, in Act 1 capture the spirit of the carnival, while the paler creams and greys during Don Quixote’s dreamed encounter with dryads in the forest create a wonderfully ethereal atmosphere. The skirts are flowing and long, yet also enhance and emphasise the cast’s dancing, and the soloists’ costumes are just different enough to stand out while keeping in theme with the rest of the cast. Even the lighting, so unimaginative during the prologue, is effectively used during Act II Scene 1, in which it becomes first more orange to show that it is dusk, and then rapidly flashes different colours to show Don Quixote’s confused frame of mind.
Perhaps I was in the wrong frame of mind during the prologue. After all, the focus of this performance is to showcase the dancing ability and achievements of the Cambridge University Ballet Club, not the lighting or set. Considering that the dancers are amateurs, the dancing itself was fantastic and – dare I say it? – on pointe, and it is this that makes the ballet as impressive as it is.