Don Quixote (2008)

St James Theatre 2, Wellington

31/10/2008 - 08/11/2008

Production Details

The Meridian Season of Don Quixote: a star-studded family adventure

Sir Jon Trimmer is thrilled to be playing the lead role in the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s vibrant, new production of Don Quixote.

The ballet veteran and crowd-favourite is celebrating 50 years of performing with the RNZB this year, and says being offer the role of “The Don” is a dream come true.

“I was thrilled and honoured to be asked to play the role of Don Quixote. These days I tend to mainly play old ladies and witches so it will be nice to be the hero for once, even an aging, addled and confused one,” jokes the 69-year-old.

Sir Jon first joined the Royal New Zealand Ballet in 1958, just five years after the company was founded. Over the years his skills and dedication to dance have made him a household name.

“I hope I’m still going strong and performing when I’m 80,” Trimmer says.

He will be joined on stage in Don Quixote by special guest star and expat New Zealander, Marc Cassidy from The Australian Ballet and former RNZB principal dancer Shannon Dawson.

Designed by RNZB artistis director Gary Harris, Don Quixote is a family-friendly ballet featuring the best of classical dance technique set to the sparkling melodies of revered composer Ludwig Minkus.

The story follows the confused and ageing Don, together with his young nephew Sancho, as they encounter the devious Gamache with his consort of rough and ready street dancers, the beautiful but feisty Kitri; her young, penniless lover Basilio; Kitri’s father – a pretentious café owner, and a tribe of wild gypsies.

A secret lover’s tryst, a robbery, visions and dreams, and a celebratory wedding add excitement to this fun adventure. Don Quixote is one of the great comedic ballets of all time, so join the Royal New Zealand Ballet for this fun night out.

The Meridian Season of Don Quixote
performance dates:

Wellington 31 October – 8 November
Featuring the Vector Wellington Orchestra
St James Theatre

Invercargill 11 – 12 November
Civic Theatre

Dunedin 15 – 16 November
Featuring the Southern Sinfonia
Regent Theatre

Christchurch 19 – 22 November
Featuring the Christchurch Symphony
Isaac Theatre Royal 

Palmerston North 25 – 26 November
Regent Theatre on Broadway

Napier 29 – 30 November
Municipal Theatre

Auckland 3 – 7 December
Featuring the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra 
Aotea Centre at THE EDGE®

Hamilton 10 -11 December
Founders Theatre

Dance , ,

2.25 hours

Trimmer triumphs (on & off stage) as old warhorse gets new life

Review by Jennifer Shennan 07th Nov 2008

[Dompost 3/11 review + 6/11 update]

The RNZB’s new production of this picaresque and madcap ballet has spirit, colour, comedy, pathos, wit, striking design and some smashing good dancing. The historic three-act ballet, a century and a half old, is something of a war-horse in the Russian repertoire version, but there have been numerous subsequent productions highlighting different aspects of Cervantes’ sprawling 16th century novel.

This impressive design by Gary Harris, with choreographic help from Adrian Burnett, works cleverly on several levels, and gives numerous opportunities to more than just the lead roles. That said, Jon Trimmer in the title role achieves yet another triumph of characterization. Now in his 70th year, he somehow makes the role resonate with the courage, loyalty and optimism of his own legendary career (which he is the first to admit has included some challenges that any sensible man would have walked away from.)  Imagine Colin Meads playing now in the All Blacks team, and scoring.

The virtuosic excerpts of the original ballet’s pas de deux and codas by Petipa, often seen in gala performances and thus familiar to all ballet-goers, are here placed in a wider narrative context. It is like watching an enormous jigsaw puzzle being assembled with great inventiveness over three hours. The holographic imagery within overall lighting, by Jon Buswell, is a terrific idea, and brings the book into the ballet.

The music score by Minkus is hardly great fare, but it certainly serves the purpose and Vector Wellington Orchestra plays with much aplomb.

Shannon Dawson, a former company member with outstanding talent, returns to play the role of café proprietor like some hilarious commedia dell’arte character on the loose, whose waiters dance in deadpan canon to great effect. Three sailors are itching to dance, and a band of gypsies clearly sleep rough, and do not try to hide their sinister intent. 

Sancho Panza is well  played by Michael Braun; new company recruit, Medhi Angot from France, revels in the role as a totally gorgeous Cupid. It’s a pleasure to get to know Marc Cassidy, New Zealander imported back from Australia to dance Basilio. He has fine technique and will soon expand into more convincing communication in the role.  Yu Takayama as Kitri displays her brilliant classical technique in exquisite line and diamond-strong balances combined with adagio unfoldings of leg or arm. I melt.

A cute little dog, made by Chris Covich, is owned by filthy rich and often drunk rogue, Gamache, skilfully played by Paul Matthews.  In contrast, Don Quixote’s horse is a mere mop, but nothing will stop this idealist from charging forth around the country, tilting at windmills and dreaming of love.

Coda: 6 Nov.

It was a special treat to see another performance of this spirited, beautiful, funny ballet – on Thursday evening, 6 Nov. – when the Company excelled in all directions.  The quartet of spivvy waiters danced in sparkling unison, the trio of quickfire and footsure sailors were super smooth – with the overall standard of group dances excellent all evening.

Marc Cassidy seemed really in love with his bride Kitri, and that warmth brought rich quality to his already stellar technique. Yu Takayama is a poem and a prayer and a Catherine-wheel-in-one, a truly stunning dancer who simultaneously combines the emotion of the role with her own joy in dancing, via a technique in which clarity, not difficulty, is conveyed.  

The adorable Cupid of the Dream Scene is played by new recruit Medhi Angot. The role is sweetly choreographed to allow a coquettish sequence of temps leve to suddenly morph into a flashing split jete, in which his whole body suddenly becomes the very arrow he has just released. Angot, trained at Paris Opera Ballet, has all the perfect plasticity of the Russian ballet tradition Nureyev reintroduced to France from his own pedigree training under the great teacher, Alexander Pushkin. 

Jon Trimmer inherited that same quality of lyricism and grace, of musicality-over-mannerism. He no doubt caught it from Poul Gnatt, another peerless dancer who always knew how to disguise the workings of technique by dancing in phrases, through rather than merely to the music.  Such dancers (and they are rare) actually play their muscles like musical instruments.  I know where I will be on Saturday afternoon when Angot dances Basilio at the matinee. 

The Vector Wellington Orchestra plays with great style, though the music is full of splendid melodies rather than compelling rhythmic challenges, the interest of syncopation and counterpoint, or the cumulative power of a through-composed score. The gypsy dances had just a hint of chunky Jota cross rhythms, but oh how I wanted more of them. (I would also be hugely impressed if the tempo for the fouette sequences in the final codas, for both Kitri and Basilio, could be held tight into the dancers’ timing, or vice versa, rather than escape from each other. I know there are centrifugal forces at work, but such co-ordination is not in principle impossible).

We could whip up a petition and ask Gary Harris, artistic director, that Shannon Dawson, who returns here as guest artist to play Kitri’s Father, be kept on the company’s permanent payroll as a character actor. The comic skills and sense of theatre in this charismatic performer have not dulled one jot since he left the company in 2002.  We have Peter Pan to look forward to in 2009, and Smee was (only) one of Dawson’s best roles, ( his playing of Renfield in Dracula is permanently etched in my memory, and there’s a score more besides).  Please Gary.  A Company such as this one is so enriched by the presence of experienced players. Witness Sir Jon.

And quite a moment, post curtain-call, when Maggie Barry arrived to announce that Jonty had been judged overall winner Wellingtonian of the Year. Can we say "Amen to that"? Yes we can. 

Second Coda 7/11:

I just saw the Schools matinee of Don Quixote … hundreds of school children were treated to a hilarious, fast-forward filmed version of the impressive and major set changes between Acts 1 & 2, instead of waiting 30 mins for the real time thing.  … it was priceless ( and something the public audience would love as well).

The performance was done to tape — usually that’s second best to live orchestra, but here the security, ironically, gave a tightened momentum which the dancers thrived on.

Adriana Harper and Medhi Angot were an absolutely stunning pair as Kitri and Basilio ( they will play again on Sat. matinee, Nov. 8) – stellar technique, plus passion, a great rapport !

Maree White danced a fabulous Mercedes, Rory Fairweather-Neylan played a very funny Sancho Panza.

This was a big week by everyone’s standards — with Barack Obama, the Melbourne Cup, Guy Fawkes and our own upcoming election all vying for air time.

Jon Trimmer winning Wellingtonian of the Year added to the fireworks … and it’s my guess the Company will now rocket around the country with this production building at every show.

Jonty and Shannon Dawson never repeat a performance precisely but will be leading the field down the home straight.
– – – – – – – – – –
Special Don Quixote pricing and Wellington Election special!!!

1. FAMILY MATINEE PRICE: two adults and one or two children for $180; this price is available for all matinees on the tour (Wellington, Christchurch, Auckland). The price in Napier is $150.

2. STUDENT RUSH PRICE $20 per ticket down from $26.50 (valid for Wellington season only)

3. ELECTION SPECIAL: For sale on Saturday ONLY, all remaining tickets will be available for $50 per ticket.

Book at Ticketek!


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Wit, flamboyance and flamenco offset the score’s relentless symmetry

Review by Jan Bolwell 03rd Nov 2008

Gary Harris, director of the Royal New Zealand Ballet, has a penchant for cranking new life into old Petipa warhorses. He did so most successfully a year or so ago with ‘Nutcracker’, and now he has turned his hand to ‘Don Quixote’. With this production you can sense his delight in being able to devise the entire production, not only arranging Petipa’s choreography, but as well designing set and costumes. 

The entire production is a riot of colour and energy and performed with great wit and flamboyance by the company. The cartoon-like set with its tall asymmetric buildings and brilliant blue sky and cotton wool clouds almost threatens to overwhelm the performers,  but they are equal to challenge, as every characterization is larger than life, starting with the ‘Don’ himself.

What a perfect anniversary present for Sir Jon Trimmer in his 50th year with the Company. He slips into the part effortlessly and with superb finesse. From the moment we see him as the dotty old bloke absorbed in his book on chivalric deeds, to the agile leg- flinging over a mop (horse) dressed as an aviator and charging off into adventure-land, we are able to believe in this character.

Gary Harris was determined that Don Quixote was going to be something other than the traditionally portrayed ‘stiff and wooden sort of chap’. He and Trimmer succeed with this portrayal, avoiding the pitfall of descending into crude caricature. The Don is accompanied on his adventures by Sancho Panza, his nerdy ‘Harry Potteresque’ nephew, played endearingly by Michael Braun.

Petipa’s choreography, some of it extremely challenging for the dancers, forms the heart of this ballet, but Harris enlivens the work by skillfully blending touches of authenticity with flamenco style dancing. Flamenco dance exponent, Jill Tanner-Lloyd coached the company in order to instil that essential Spanish flavour. A stylish fandango by choreographer Adrian Burnett utilizes this vocabulary and the dancers gave such a passionate rendition that Tanner-Lloyd was heard to shout ‘ole!’ from the stalls on opening night.

Personally I could have done with more such moments of authenticity to alleviate the relentless symmetry of the Minkus score, played well by the Vector Wellington Orchestra. The strains of a real guitar, the stamping sound of actual flamenco steps, could have added a certain frisson to the work, although we are treated at one stage to the delightful spectacle of Trimmer enthusiastically playing the castanets. 

The romantic leads are danced by Yu Takayama (Kitri) and Marc Cassidy (Basilio). Both are fine technicians and truly come into their own with a virtuosic display in the wedding scene in Act Three. But dancing in these old ballets is about more than technique, and both lack charisma and acting ability in this production. Not for a moment do we believe they are madly in love.

They are given a lesson in stage presence by ex-Company dancer Shannon Dawson who plays Kitri’s father. Looking like a cross between Hitler and Charlie Chaplin, Dawson gives a beautifully timed manic performance, enlivening the stage whenever he appears.

Another impressive performance is given by Paul Mathews as Gamache, who makes a great drunk, but on occasions is in danger of being upstaged by his ankle biting mechanical dog.

In Act Two Lucy Balfour and Qi Huan dance with sizzling sensuality as leaders of the band of gypsies and newcomer to the company, Medhi Angot, is a standout in his role of Cupid in the Driads scene. Speaking of Driads, it is very strange to see a ‘white ballet’ plopped into the middle of this colourful Spanish ballet, but it is one of the more eccentric Petipa conventions that one has to accept in ‘Don Quixote’.

I cannot finish this review with out mentioning the four waiters, danced with impeccable style by Qi Huan, Brendan Bradshaw, Jacob Chown and Eliot Rudolph. Their performance was a delight.


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Thrilling dance moments, gorgeous design elements, pleasing musical cadences

Review by Lyne Pringle 01st Nov 2008

Marking 50 years of his dancing with Royal New Zealand Ballet Company there is a gorgeous moment in Act 1 where Sir Jon Trimmer as Don Quixote executes a few precise ronde jambes and pas de bourrees, gradually these moves are picked up by the rest of the dancers until the whole stage is filled with the steps he has introduced. It is a resonant metaphor for the enormous contribution to the company that he has made and to dance in New Zealand. Viva Jon T!

The overture with the Vector Wellington Orchestra, in fine form, leads to the shambolic bedroom of the ‘Don’ as he dreams amongst his books of adventure and his romantic fixation on the elusive Dulcinea – nicely conjured with projections. 

Gary Harris has staged and designed the work with flair. He desires in this rendering to invite the viewer to question whether the ‘Don’ is real or imagined – perhaps the fantasies of an old man caught up in the literary marvel of Cervantes. A nice provocation that gives texture to the characterization and the story as does the young nephew as a variation on Sancho Panza.

Through traditional mime sequences – I find myself always struggling with these pantomimic devices and wonder is it time to refresh these traditional and ultimately unbelievable story telling techniques – the scene is set for the quest and we arrive in a village with a cartoonesque and bright set and characters straight from a 50’s Fellini movie.

There is a lot to look at as we are introduced to Yu Takayama as Kitri and guest artist Marc Cassidy as Basilio. With her characteristic precise technique – stunning split leaps that hover momentarily – Takayama brings a musicality and grace to Kitri if a little lacking in the earthy Latin passion of the locale. Cassidy is a sympathetic Basilio with shining technique. Their unison is flawless and as sharp as castanets as they make their way with confidence through the variations in Act I.

Returning guest artist Shannon Dawson has always been a great character dancer and in this instance his Hitleresque Father is immediately a hit as he tries to no avail to keep the lovers apart.

Abigail Boyle is sensuous and lovely as Mercedes and Paul Mathews is convincing as a gauche conniving blinged up Gamache: great characters!

The choreography really cooks in a sequence with Mercedes’s girlfriends cavorting with sailors with fantastic legs and snooty waiters. The company delivers the chorus work with energy style and a sense of fun as the "Don" racks up the humour stakes galumphing off on his mop/horse!

Act II is very satisfying design-wise and the gypsies bring a much needed rough-it-up-a-bit earthiness to the production. The lovers display tender and assured partnering before the pack set upon Don Quixote leaving him dishevelled and penniless. There are some more affective projections and a giant puppet against the moon to reflect his confused state of mind. Cupid (Medhi Agnot) nonchalantly arrives, the light glinting seductively off his bronzed skin as he dances beautifully amongst the clean lines of Driads. This ballet has everything, even an act in white tutus.

In Act III we are back in the cartoon with a great solo from Abigail Boyle as the scene is set for the final showdown with some clever and funny antics from two policemen and stirring footwork a la Flamenco from the company. Eventually the ‘Don’ retrieves his fortune and the path is cleared for the lovers to wed.

Dawson performs with flair and wit in a brilliant solo with Sir Jon accompanying him on castanets on top of a table – my peak moment of the production: wonderful!

The bride and groom are sleek and stylish in black and white. In the wedding variations we again have the opportunity to enjoy their technique. Flawless fouettes from Takayama and needle sharp turns and legs from Cassidy with great gusto and balon in his leaps.

Throughout the evening there are enough thrilling dance moments, gorgeous design elements and pleasing musical cadences to leave the punters happy as this spectacle draws to a close.


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