Laura Freeman

Dancing up a La Mancha storm

The music is irresistible, the designs delightful and Vadim Muntagirov's legs are like silver compasses

Dancing up a La  Mancha storm
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Don Quixote

Royal Opera House, in rep until 14 April

The trouble with Don Quixote is Don Quixote. Whenever the doddering, delusional Don is onstage, tilting at windmills, riding his straw-and-sawdust nag on wheels, jousting with bedposts, our spirits and sympathies suffer. Quixote’s quest only really works as an excuse for Kitri, Basilio, Espada the Matador and Mercedes the street minx to dance up a La Mancha storm. This they do, with bells on. In toreador waistcoat, tight taleguilla and pink stockings to match his cape, Ryoichi Hirano is the Mata-phwoar. The corps de ballet swoon and flutter. He is sexy, even caddish. I was a Hirano doubter, but this was a magnificent performance: athletic power matched by classical control. A bullfighter one moment, ballerino the next.

Laura Morera as his firebrand lover Mercedes is underpowered. She was so extraordinarily good as the temptress gypsy in The Two Pigeons, yet here, in a similar role, she is subdued. An off-colour night, perhaps. It is partly the fault of the choreography, reworked by Carlos Acosta in 2013 after Marius Petipa’s 1869 ballet. Mercedes is given very much less to do than the other three. The music, by Ludwig Minkus, is irresistible: a riot of waltz, fandango and tambourine.

Marianela Nunez as Kitri comes on all guns blazing, all castanets clacking. She is giddy and playful, teasing and proud. Kitri, the innkeeper’s daughter, loves the young barber Basilio (Vadim Muntagirov). Who wouldn’t? One could quibble that Muntagirov is entirely improbable as a swarthy Spaniard — his looks and bearing are more St Petersburg drawing room than bar-room brawl — but at the end of the first and third acts my cheeks ached from smiling. One rarely talks of male dancers being lovely, but there is a lovely lightness to Muntagirov, an infectious gaiety and joie de danse. His legs are like silver compasses, his ballon serene. All set off by a glorious costume and sleek Rioja tights. Hirano’s third act costume, though, takes the prize. In iridescent green he is like a glorious grasshopper leaping and springing and thumbing his nose at boring old gravity.

Tim Hatley’s designs are delightful. We open in Don Quixote’s panelled bedroom and move to a square bustling with farm girls and picturesque pickpockets. The peasants are revolting? Not these peasants in pressed waistcoats, spotless jodhpurs and white lace. Yuhui Choe and Beatriz Stix-Brunell are ladies in lavender as the two coquettes and Fumi Kaneko radiant as Queen of the Dryads.

The second act sags. Christopher Saunders is a daftly gallant Don Quixote and David Yudes a roly-poly Sancho Panza but old men’s dreams are dull in the telling. The scene in the magic garden is pretty but pointless. So it’s back with relief to the inn where Nunez and Morera dance on the bar and Muntagirov sweetly botches his own faked death. He is soon resurrected to dance a final formidable solo. Nunez and Muntagirov in the wedding grand pas de deux are like two drops of a crystal chandelier catching the candlelight. It’s not so much that they convince as lovers — Nunez and her former husband Thiago Soares do this rather better — more that they make you feel that there is no man and no woman who could love dancing more and what good fortune they have found each other.