Iana Salenko as Kitri in Don Quixote. Photo: HK Ballet

Hong Kong Ballet opened its new 2017/18 season with the 19th century classic Don Quixote. This season is also the company’s first under the artistic directorship of Septime Webre, the former artistic director of Washington Ballet, who made a short speech before the performance. The program for this season, including this abridged production of Don Quixote, had been planned already by the former artistic director, Madeleine Onne.

Traditional versions of Don Quixote last for over three hours. This trimmed-down version, which admittedly suits the limited resources of a smaller-sized company such as Hong Kong Ballet, lasts for only two hours, including an interval. This production, staged in the dying days of the summer holidays, may well have been devised with students and young audience members in mind.

Hong Kong audiences have experienced their fair share of productions of Don Quixote from prestigious visiting companies over the last two decades. The most recent, and also the best in my view, was the Mariinsky Ballet’s sublime production during the 2010 Hong Kong Arts Festival. The Mariinsky’s rival, the Bolshoi, also toured here with a version, in 1999.

The latest production was staged by Nina Ananiashvili, the former star of the Bolshoi Ballet. Act 1, as in most other versions, ended with the innkeeper’s daughter Kitri running off with her lover, Basilio. Act 2 picks up at the gypsy encampment to which they have escaped. Subsequently, the Don has a vision of Kitri as his ideal woman, Basilio fakes his own suicide, and he and Kitri end up wedding.

The choreographic text remains rooted in Petipa’s original. Some cuts have sensibly been made by Ananiashvili to suit the company’s resources, but she has fortunately retained the most famous set pieces. In Act 1, we still see the dances of the toreadors, as well as the street dancer’s solo, ending with her zig-zagging between the knives. The choreography for the Act 2 vision scene and the Act 3 duet are also still intact. However, the small corps de ballet of dryads in the vision scene, though augmented by students, makes the stage look rather sparse.

The cuts made are justifiable and are mostly character dances which would have been too taxing for the company. The gypsy character dances have been cut. And in the tavern scene, the Arab and Oriental dances which are so memorable in the Russian versions have been excised. Fortunately the wonderful fandango is still intact in the final wedding scene.

Iana Salenko as Kitri in Don Quixote. Photo: HK Ballet

Act 2 is far too rushed, however. Another interval is really necessary after the Don’s beautiful dream scene in order to provide a break in the audience’s mood before the dramatic tavern scene. There is no sense of local audiences being in a rush to go home after two hours. The tavern scene is disappointingly brief. So the denouement after the fake suicide doesn’t make the dramatic impact that it should do.

The sets, designed by Thomas Mika, are simple and functional, and his costumes pretty attractive overall. The highlight of this revival is undoubtedly the guest star Iana Salenko, a principal of the Staatsballett Berlin. Her technical virtuosity is scintillating and breathtaking.
Her partner Shen Jie also danced admirably, as Basilio, while Lukas Jerkander made the Don most human. Chen Zhiyao impressed as the Queen of the Dryads, and Li Lin was an energetic Espada. Hong Kong Ballet has certainly commenced the new season in good form.

Iana Salenko as Kitri in Don Quixote. Photo: HK Ballet