Review: The Mariinsky Ballet’s Don Quixote at The Royal Opera House

If you follow me on Twitter and Instagram, you will know that I went to see the Mariinsky Ballet performing Don Quixote at The Royal Opera House last weekend, and I was VERY excited about it!

I have been wanting to see the Mariinsky perform for years. If you don’t already know, I train at a Russian ballet school, and my main teacher danced with the Mariinsky in his day. I think that the Mariinsky and the Bolshoi are two of the best companies in the world and naturally I have been desperate to attend a performance. I wasn’t able to get tickets when they were released, so I thought I’d missed out, but I was able to grab a last-minute seat for a Saturday afternoon matinee which my boyfriend bought as a gift.

Although I’m familiar with the main variations, I haven’t watched Don Quixote all the way through before. I decided to read about the storyline online beforehand, and I also bought a programme, which I’m very glad I did because the story has quite an unusual plot. I always try to know the story, and it’s almost always best to buy a programme, because it’s much more enjoyable watching a ballet when you know what’s going on!

As this was a matinee performance, the principal roles were being performed by first soloists. I therefore expected that things might not be as polished or impressive as a main evening performance, but still looked forward to seeing the Mariinsky in action. Kitri was being danced by Elena Yevseyeva, a ballerina who wasn’t on my radar before, and Basil was Andrei Yermakov.

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I was impressed from the outset. Act I was pure entertainment from start to finish. The corps de ballet were engaging, with gorgeously expressive upper bodies you only see in Russian ballet. I noticed that the standard of acting from the whole cast was especially high throughout the ballet.

Kitri’s Act I variation was breathtaking. It was a moment I’d been waiting for, and I wasn’t disappointed- my expectations were far exceeded as Yevseyenka finished the variation with a series of lightning-fast pirouettes.

The scene in which Sancho steals food from the kitchen was also highly entertaining- it had the audience were laughing out loud. In a particularly memorable moment, Sancho is thrown high into the air by the rest of the dancers, which elicited several “oooh”s from the audience. By the end of the first act, I was enraptured and stayed in my seat during the interval, waiting keenly for the festivities to continue.

Act II continues in the same excellent fashion- the moment of Don Quixote attacking the windmill was excellently executed, and had the audience laughing once again.  When the stage transformed into Don Quixote’s dream, the audience let out a collective sigh of awe at the sumptuous set and costumes. This scene was a visual feast, and the ballerinas in coloured tutus were every young girl’s dream. I couldn’t help but have some serious respect for the corps de ballet standing as still as statues! Anastasia Asaben as Cupid was light, fun and technically precise. The Queen of the Dryads variation was another I had been excited to see, and Ekaterina Chebyinka danced the start of it beautifully. However, I could see the effort in the Italian fouettes, which were impressive but looked slightly heavy, nothing like the weightless grande jetes that followed later in the scene.

As someone with an especially short attention span who hates sitting for long periods, I thought I might be ready for the afternoon to be over by the second interval. However after a stretch of my legs and a drink I truly couldn’t wait to see the rest of the ballet, which is testament to its excellence.

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The third act continued to entertain. Mercedes’ variation was sultry and masterful, and gave me a lot of inspiration to go home and work on back flexibility! Although the Oriental Dance was a show of incredible skill (I don’t know how her arms didn’t fall off by the end!) I found it dull, more because of the stationary choreography than the dancing itself. That was the first and only time I was bored during the ballet.

I wondered how Basil faking his suicide would be portrayed without confusion, but it was executed perfectly and with great comic timing that had the audience chuckling. The variations and the grand pas that followed were unbelievable. I think that Yermakov and Yevseyenka’s partnering skills were truly top notch. The lifts were daring and beautiful. Yermakov lifted Yevseyenka high above his head with one hand, her with one leg exactly to her ear, and the audience gasped.

Yermakov’s grande allegro was sensational, with huge height, although his pirouettes were a little slower than they needed to be to match the energy of the jumps. I felt like he was getting tired towards the end, but maybe that is just the way he turns, because the partnering work was second to none.

The entire performance ended on such a high, with the audience entertained from start to finish and a great display of technique and artistry. The sets and costumes were divine, and the orchestra was, as expected, perfection. I was so impressed with the whole performance, which far exceeded my expectations. Really, any negative points mentioned are me just finding things which held it back from perfection, because the standard of the performance was so very high. For me, Yevseyeva as Kitri was the shining star, and I would never have known from that performance that she wasn’t a principal dancer.

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I did hear from some friends who attended the performance later that evening that they were slightly underwhelmed, and the dancers seemed tired or even bored. In this case, I’m actually glad it was the matinee that I had a ticket for, because the whole experience was second to none.

I left the opera house feeling truly inspired. The dancers showed such amazing technical mastery and flexibility that I was motivated to get to work on my own technique and conditioning! However what really struck me was the stamina on display; it is a long ballet with some really difficult variations and pas de deux, and I was so impressed at how the standard was maintained, especially by Yevseyenka. That’s something I’ll be keeping with me to inspire me in my own training.

Please let me know in the comments if you’ve seen the Mariisnky perform and how you found it, and also if you’ve seen another company doing Don Quixote and what you thought of that. I’d love to compare experiences!

Jessica x

3 Comments Add yours

  1. kakakiri says:

    I saw the Mariinsky perform “Swan Lake” three years ago at the ROH and I was also especially impressed by the perfection of the corps. In a ballet such as Swan Lake it is obviously particularly striking and their dancing and standing (!) were always impeccably in line and in synch. Very inspiring indeed!

    1. Agreed, the corps were truly impeccable. I would love to see them in Swan Lake, I think that’s a ballet that suits the Mariinsky style so well.

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