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Don Quixote, Ballet by Laurent Hilaire

Don Quixote, Ballet by Laurent Hilaire

Who does not know the romantic, tragic adventures of Don Quixote de La Mancha? The timeless story by Miguel de Cervantes has intrigued generations of readers and inspired numerous artists and composers to recreate it in image, song, theatre and dance. One of the most legendary adaptations of the classic novel is the Don Quixote ballet with music by Ludwig Minkus and original choreography by the great Russian master Marius Petipa. Rome’s Teatro Costanzi now presents the ballet’s modern incarnation by esteemed choreographer Laurent Hilaire.

Ludwig Minkus, a Vienna native, had his career’s high point in Moscow where he spent decades as a violinist, music pedagogue and eventually concert master of the Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra. It was during this high tenure that he also let his talent for composition unfold, and a collaboration with legendary Russian ballet choreographer Marius Petipa gave rise to his greatest success: the ballet Don Quixote.

Minkus, a predecessor to greats like Léo Delibes and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky who drove the great ballet revival of the late 19th century, created a highly rhythmical score that was in total service of the narrative and the dancers on stage. You will notice that the melodies are bright and effective without ever sounding outlandish, and the orchestration, while slightly formulaic, creates a perfect amalgam between music and movement – surely a major reason for Don Quixote’s lasting success.

Petipa, the grand master of the Tsar’s Imperial Ballet in St Petersburg, saw the merits of Minkus’s straight-forward approach to composition and produced a choreography that stood the test of time. The premiere at the Moscow’s Imperial Bolshoi Theatre on 26 December 1869 was an indubitable success, and many revivals followed. Petipa himself reworked and expanded the original production for a second premiere at the Imperial Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre in St Petersburg on 21 November 1871 where his creative vision and Minkus’s musicality garnered further praise.

All modern versions of Don Quixote stem from Alexander Gorsky's definitive 1900 choreography, which he based on Petipa's original. Laurent Hilaire, the choreographer behind the production at the Rome Opera House, draws his inspiration from Mikhail Baryshnikov’s classic American adaptation of the Petipa/Gorsky standard and creates a layering of stellar ballet talent across several centuries that is simply too good to miss.

image Rome Opera House / Silvia Lelli / Teatro dell'Opera di Roma