Don Quixote: A dash of chivalric romance at Cairo Opera

Ati Metwaly, Wednesday 16 Apr 2014

Performed between 14 and 18 April, ballet Don Quixote takes us on a swift journey through one of Spain's most influential literary works while infusing the Opera's main hall with bright colors and many talents

Don Quixote
Don Quixote by the Cairo Opera Ballet Company, 14 April 2014 (Photo: Bassam Al Zoghby)

Following a nine-year hiatus, Don Quixote ballet once again graces the Cairo Opera House's main hall. Performed by the Cairo Opera Ballet Company, accompanied by the Cairo Opera Orchestra conducted by Nayer Nagui, the ballet runs daily between 14 and 18 April.

The ballet is one of the many artistic adaptations of the novel Don Quixote de la Mancha, the exceptionally influential literary work by the Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. Here the adventures of Alonso Quixano (Don Quixote) are transported onto the great visuals and equally captivating music by Ludwig Minkus. The Cairo performances are based on the choreography by Marius Petipa and Alexander Gorsky – usually serving for contemporary renditions of the ballet – topped with touches by the late Abdel-Moneim Kamel, former director of the Cairo Opera Ballet Company. The Cairo staging, however, is performed in three acts and four scenes, an extremely compact rendition as the usual staging includes four acts and eight scenes.

The first performance of Don Quixote in Cairo took place in 1989, immediately upon the opening of the new Cairo Opera House and the first season of the Cairo Opera Ballet Company. This was when prima ballerina Erminia Kamel, now the company's artistic director, danced the role of Kitri with the highly acclaimed Russian dancer Sergey Gorbachev as Basil.

Though the 2005 restaging of the ballet with a different cast already included three acts, it incorporated some tableaus which filled the performance with depth acclaimed by the critics of the time. The concept of presenting shorter ballets has obviously become a repetitive strategy of the Cairo Opera Ballet Company, which in February performed Spartacus ballet, also in a very compact form.

Historically, just like many other classical ballets, Don Quixote went through a multitude of transformations. The work which premiered in Moscow in 1869 carried four acts and eight scenes, and its 1873 lavish staging grew to five acts and 11 scenes. New adaptations of the ballet incorporate amendments introduced by choreographer Alexander Gorsky in 1900 (four acts and eight scenes). Instead of using corps de ballet as the backdrop for the scenes, Gorsky integrated it to the drama.

The additionally trimmed Don Quixote is not a completely unusual procedure, as some companies do it to simplify the plot so as to reshape dramatic developments and create different dramaturgical equilibriums between two pairs: Don Quixote and his squire Sancho Panza on the one hand and lovers Kitri and Basilio on the other. The Cairo Opera Ballet Company's extremely compact, 90-minute version provides snapshots of the original Don Quixote. This sketchy thematic line points to Don Quixote's search of his Dulcinea only to lead towards his realisation that Kitri is not the one since she is in love with Basil. Don Quixote leaves to pursue his quest...

Anja Ahcin and Ahmed Yehia
Anja Ahcin and Ahmed Yehia and their pasde deux, Don Quixote by the Cairo Opera Ballet Company, 14 April 2014 (Photo: Bassam Al Zoghby)

Though this staging of Don Quixote relies on a minimal collection of different tableaus, the company managed to stage a predominantly plausible performance, enveloped in the sounds of castanets and tambourines. On the first night (14 April) the duet of Anja Ahcin (as Kitri) and Ahmed Yehia (as Basil) was among the highlights. Their subtle presentation, and an especially touching pas de deux from the third act, underscored the harmony of the pair. We were already able to notice their natural unity in Spartacus (in the roles of Phrygia and Spartacus), Swan Lake (Odette and Siegfried), Romeo and Juliet, among dozens of others.

Ahcin, the company's first dancer, always reassures the audience with her talent and technical ability which is coupled with a consistent and clearly apparent preparation to each performance. Though Yehia exerts equally obvious effort, it is the strength of the duet with Ahcin that draws our particular attention to Yehia.

Among other memorable tableaus were scenes with Sahar Helmy as Mercedes (a street dancer) and Ahmed Nabil as Toreador. Helmy has a capacity to dazzle with her technique, a skill well met with Nabil's agility and strong definition of movements.

The small corps de ballet becomes an integral part of the many scenes, where it moves from the Barcelona square to the tavern and celebrates Kitri and Basil's wedding. Longer rehearsal time would have probably prevented a number of technical glitches surfacing from some of its dancers. The most disappointing were a few neglects of movement, especially noticeable to the audience seated at the top balcony. The company might also wish to consider fact that their backstage skirmishes and elaborate discussions can be very well heard by the audience, an unfortunate event which distracted the beginning of the third act.

Though 14 April officially marked the first show of Don Quixote and the Cairo Opera Orchestra stood up to the task, for a number of dancers from the corps de ballet the performance's dynamics echoed with those of the dress rehearsal. Putting in mind that such occasional first night imperfections are among common – though very unfortunate – phenomena in the performing arts, it is safe to say that the remaining days of the ballet will most probably see all those flaws polished.

Don Quixote
Don Quixote by the Cairo Opera Ballet Company, 14 April 2014 (Photo: Bassam Al Zoghby)


14, 15, 16, 17, 18 April at 8pm
Cairo Opera House, Main Hall, Zamalek, Cairo

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