Ballet for Those who Likes to Laugh
Cervantes addressed his novel Don Quixote to children and sages, though he was too modest in regards to his great work, and the Knight of the Rueful Countenance, accompanied by his faithful squire, continues his never-ending journey through the centuries and continents. Many film adaptations of the novel have been made; there are operas, symphonic poems, ballets. Thus, on November 25-26, L. Minkus’ ballet Don Quixote in the new choreographic adaptation of Altynai Asylmuratova will conquer the audience’s hearts at the Astana Opera.
Everyone knows the story of the Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha since childhood. However, in the ballet the emphasis will be shifted, and, instead of the knight immersed in his fantasies, two lovers – Kitri and Basilio – will be at the foreground of the familiar plot. Thus, according to the libretto, the innkeeper Lorenzo is about to marry his daughter Kitri to a rich nobleman Gamache. Being in love with a young man of modest means Basilio, she opposes her father’s decision. And then the real fun begins… But let’s focus on the details.
In this production, many surprises await the audience. The viewers will appreciate the appearance of a live horse and a donkey onstage. Let us remember that, when choosing the name for his horse, Don Quixote decided on Rocinante, “a name, to his thinking, lofty, sonorous, and significant of his condition as a hack before he became what he now was, the first and foremost of all the hacks in the world.”
The audience will be delighted by the frontal and backstage video projections used in the production, including – for the first time – animations. According the Head of the Artistic Production Complex Victor Carare, this production will be unlike other performances around the world, which is quite understandable, as the Set Designer is the legendary Ezio Frigerio.
“We are very fortunate to have already amassed an entire collection of his works. With each subsequent production the Italian designer sets himself high artistic goals. At the age of 86 years old, he still seeks new scenic ideas and solutions. He is very comfortable working with our team. In the Artistic Production Complex we bring the designs to life as they were conceived by the master,” said Victor Carare.
Let us give specific examples how the set designer’s ideas were brought to life in order to confirm the words of the Head of the Artistic and Staging Works. Thus, in the act with the Spanish Square, the height of ready-made set pieces is up to 12 meters, to clarify, they can be compared with the height of a 5-storey building. At the moment, four three-dimensiona
As though flipping through the pages of the novel, more and more new pictures are offered to the viewers. Here is a mill, set in motion by the blowing wind. In the opera house, its blades are rotated by a mechanism. In tune with the real one, animated windmills will rotate their blades in a valley on a big screen. In the act with the Magic Forest, picturesque coulisses will drop, and a gigantic spider will appear on the front screen. Incidentally, all animations are drawn by the projection designer’s team of video artists. It is a complex, painstaking work.
Accuracy in the Details
In the prop shop, the atmosphere of noisy Barcelona has been prevailing for a long time. There is even their own Don Quixote, seated on a chair. Until he goes onstage to face the viewers, he is overseeing the work of master craftsmen. This production, more than any other, is rich in props: tables, benches, armor, epees, knives, etc. The audience will see this unrealistic-size
“All our productions are different, they are never the same. In this one we got familiar with the new armor production technology. We are using new materials as well as basic ones. Many items we are making together with different workshops. For example, we make kibitka wagons with Restoration and Craft Shop. With the Stage Lighting Department we are making lanterns and a simulation of bonfire for travelers. Why was the Don Quixote’s dummy necessary? If in film there are stunt doubles, we have to use duplicates. At one point Don Quixote is fighting the windmill, mistaking it for a giant monster, and gets in between the mill blades. Just like a real person, our fake Don Quixote consists of several parts. We cut them out of foam, and then fixed them on a wire mechanism. Hands and feet can move freely. To create imitation of human skin, we used a new type of textile. He has a beard, straw braid serves as hair. Make-up artists did the make-up,” noted Dauren Umarov.
Decorators worked on painting and papier-mâché. They have created the Early Romantic period dishes. They explain that in a ballet performance props must be lightweight, but at the same time of a very high quality.
“Unlike conventional furniture, prop furniture has to last longer. Accordingly it must be more durable, as, according to the scenario, the chairs may often fall, yet they should not break. The size of the kibitka wagons is impressive. These dimensions are intended for the large-scale stage of the Astana Opera. Big props are made of sectioned parts so that they can be easily disassembled and used for touring,” said the shop staff.
A Single Thread from Everyone…
In this production, there are not many ballerinas’ favorite gold embroidered tutus, costumes decorated with gemstones and wealth of ornamentation. The reason for that we will learn from the Assistant Costume Designer Assel Dosmuratova.
“All the costumes were created taking into consideration the characteristics of the XVIII century clothing. The color plays the main role in this production. Franca Squarciapino chose bright pastel shades. The color scheme conveys particular qualities of Spanish culture – rich colors, but not the toxic modern ones. When creating the tutus we also played with color. Thus, we mixed green with yellow, purple with cold blue tint. We combined reds and greens, for example, the bullfighters are generally portrayed in red, and here their costumes will be made in a variety of colors. We also tried to facilitate ballet dancers’ comfort, making all the costumes lightweight for the ease of movement when dancing. The fabrics themselves are very complex, as they are structural and somewhat capricious,” says Assel Dosmuratova.
Ballet also has its own fashion trends. A few decades ago flat tutus were very popular, now voluminous ones that last longer are in vogue. They are made of dense, tough but surprisingly lightweight netting.
Franca Squarciapino tried to follow all the rules of costume history. Therefore, the costumes are composed of several parts: instead of mock-vests there are complete waistcoats and trousers with sophisticated tailoring. It took a whole month for the costume designer to study the presented period of Spanish history, templates were created for the patterns according to which all the costumes are now being sewn in the Astana Opera.
“Don Quixote and Sancho Panza are world-famous characters. Our goal is to show Spain that everyone can recognize. I also want to add some ‘poetry’ to the costumes. I have worked in Spain a lot, staged many productions there, so I think I will be able to convey the full flavor of this remarkable culture,” emphasizes Italian costume designer, the Academy Award-winning Franca Squarciapino.
At the fitting, soloists and young artists of the Children’s Studio, whom are also participating in the ballet, share their impressions regarding their costumes.
“We feel comfortable, as there are silk, wool, and suede here – they are all very pleasing to the body.”
Very soon the artists will twirl around the stage in them. At the time, Cervantes wrote about Spanish dances, “In seemed as though mirth and gaiety were frisking and gamboling”.
Just Be Yourself
Each performer will be able to express themselves in this ballet. The production involves two casts. All sorts of ballet stunts are featured – brilliant spins, dizzying supports, breathtaking jumps. There are also simple humor and almost direct communication with the audience.
Leading ballet soloist of the Astana Opera Bakhtiyar Adamzhan and soloist Arman Urazov are preparing to perform the part of Basilio. This will be a debut for each dancer.
“Just like in real life, where there is a place for joking and socializing with friends, this ballet tells a story of cheerful young people. Every day, the inhabitants of the Spanish city come out to the square, where their daily life events take place. There was no Internet or social networks, but they managed to find ways to entertain themselves. We do not need to look deep down for some specific emotions, we experience all of these feelings every day, and we will just be ourselves. It is necessary to prepare technically. This part fits my age. Basilio is experiencing financial difficulties. The father of my beloved Kitri does not allow us to be together, but the love we are fighting for prevails. Such stories happen today as well, many parents take into consideration material well-being. Our task is to show this story so that the audience can learn a lesson,” says Bakhtiyar Adamzhan.
His partner will be the performer of the part of Kitri Honored Worker of Kazakhstan Madina Basbayeva.
“I danced the part of this fun-loving, carefree, cheerful girl at the Kulyash Baiseitova National Theatre of Opera and Ballet. In 2014, famous French choreographer Charles Jude invited me to perform this role at the premiere at the Opéra National de Bordeaux, where I have danced four performances. Performing this role at my home stage of the Astana Opera will be special for me. Kitri and Basilio are a couple that amuse the audience with their cute quarrels, fake death of the protagonist, and other antics. The most difficult to perform are the scene with the dream and the pas de deux from the wedding scene, which is pure classics.”
In addition to Madina, leading soloist of the Astana Opera, Honored Worker of Kazakhstan Gaukhar Usina is also preparing to perform this role.
“I became acquainted with this part in Moscow while working at a ballet company there. It is a serious, technically complex role, danced by experienced ballerinas. Was it difficult for me? Yes, of course, but I had a great desire to dance it. There are many complex supports and fuete. Male parts are also interesting, but the heavier load is on the female ones. We need to show aplomb, impeccable classical clean lines. I consider myself fortunate to be dancing with my partner Arman Urazov. Right now we are working on supports.”
The author of the new choreographic version is People’s Artist of Russia, Artistic Director of the “Astana Opera” Ballet Company, Chancellor of the Kazakh National Academy of Choreography Altynai Asylmuratova.
“This is a joyful, light, bright ballet with humor, without any artifice. I want everything to be in good taste, the performance to be clear to everyone. A lot depends on the characters here; the main heroes – Basilio and Kitri – are the more ‘danced in’ parts. It is important for Don Quixote to be as he should be, for Sancho Panza to be fun, for Gamache, who introduces a comedic tone to the performance, to be juicy and bright. I want to give the audience a feeling of warmth, sun, and light.
This performance is easy on the delivery, there is no tragedy. It is not La Bayadere or Giselle, where everything ends in the afterlife. Of course, there are serious relationships, but everything is resolved in a different, more humorous way. The viewers do not have to experience suffering, but they will have to think, reflect, and understand. For example, Gamache, although he is funny, but the entire drama is that even though he considers himself to be a handsome rich man, in the end he is left alone. Romanticism and belief in a good cause of Don Quixote’s fight against evil, which is shown in the background, give the ballet philosophical coloring.”
– The opera house already has experience with horses. What will be the case with a donkey?
– We will try working with a donkey, although we are somewhat worried that the donkey’s natural obstinacy will show itself, – says Altynai Asylmuratova.
She finds it difficult to answer the question whether she has a favorite character in this ballet.
– Favorite part is usually the one that you yourself have danced, but I have performed everything in this ballet, so I like it all.
Ballet Master, Honored Artist of Russia Konstantin Zaklinsky worked on all male parts.
“The roles that require acting skills are Sancho Panza, Gamache, Don Quixote himself and Basilio – the main character. This ballet, undoubtedly, brings the viewers joy, fun, and good mood. It has many decades under its belt. The artists will need to do everything with precision, musicality, with explanation and convincingly. When Sancho falls down, runs after the girls, hugs, plays his trumpet, deafening everyone, – it must not resemble clownery or a skit,” said K. Zaklinsky.
It is well known that a heavy load in the performance falls to the corps de ballet. The dancers must show good cohesive teamwork. Two new dances will be introduced – Gypsy Dance and Fandango to the music of A. Simon, choreographed by the Ballet Mistress Elena Sherstneva. They have been added to show male dancers’ technical skills.
As for the music, it is completely non-binding in this ballet. L. Minkus was very proficient in the ballet craft; he was recognized as a ballet composer. Sparkling like Champagne music pleases the ear and makes one break into a dance. We would like to emphasize that the Music Director of the production is Arman Urazgaliyev.
The celebration, promised to the viewers by the Astana Opera, will be just in time, as the III Silk Road International Festival has just ended and the audience wants the grand continuation.