At last! SDT’s company premiere of DonQ, hurrah hurrah. I’m late, it was in early Dec (see URL of blog, please :p). This is not a review; this is a recounting of things I am thinking about as I recall Don Q 😀
You know you’re in for something good when you can’t stop smiling throughout the first Act, or when you’re emotionally invested in the characters (Kitri must end up with Basilio! et cetera).
Frankly, it felt like Christmas. Maybe it was because of the children in the audience, who enjoyed all the comical moments (I could hear them chuckling behind me).
I watched both casts, and it was interesting seeing how they danced their characters differently. You might have a bright, happy dream of a Dryad Queen (Heidi Zolker), who positively floats backwards in front of Kitri with the tiniest movements of her feet, as she blocks Don Q from his vision of Dulcinea (as played by Kitri — Chihiro on that occasion); or you might see the lithe, liquid movements of Li Jie’s quietly smiling Dryad Queen, who drew deserved applause in the Saturday matinee. Heidi Zolker and Li Jie alternated in playing Dryad Queen + Mercedes and Dulcinea + tavern-owner. There’s Heidi Zolker as a bright, spirited, feisty ra-ra Mercedes, who cheers for her man Espada (Timothy Coleman) with a swishing of her skirts, and who glares at the ladies circling and eyeing him as he preens. Li Jie is a lustrous, proud Mercedes, a slow burning graceful glow of a fire, smiling and letting her Espada (Etienne Ferrere) dance with the ladies — there’s no harm in it, for her, and his eyes are only forward, not upon the girls.
I think just about my favourite move (that I can recall right now) for Mercedes and Espada involved Mercedes running up to Espada and Espada catching her around her waist to swing her luxuriously round in a circle.
There were double Cupids as well: Nakahama Akira as a soft-feathered, fairy-type of Cupid with a sweet smile, light and quick; and Alison Carroll as a more Puckish-like, mysterious Cupid, with tiny, sharp, clean movements. Both performed their dances perfectly, and you know Cupid has to be very fast and has a lot of movements en pointe. There’s a little Cupid gesture which I caught some male audience members (for both Cupids’ shows) imitating when the show was over, because it’s kind of not a move you’d expect to see, a rounded arm and something like an “OK” sign, lifted to the chin.
For a week or so after the performances, I’d catch myself hearing a tune in my head, and I’d think — oh, this is the music as Kitri and Basilio run into the wild under the cover of her shawl, and there’s the light beat in it that foreshadows the gypsies, as the couple hold the ends of the shawl and she turns round under it, a delicate gesture that is somehow so touching and right for the young couple.
Kitri. Kitri and Basilio, I think we can’t separate them.
Rosa Park with castanets in hand, joyous eyes on her Basilio only, poised sharp as a bull in a ring. Leaping across the stage, vibrant, spirited. She played Kitri as a slightly coarser village girl also, proudly strutting out from the side of the stage to prepare for her turn, while her Basilio leapt in a circle round the stage. Rosa Park is a wonderfully strong (in technique and physical strength) dancer, with a beautiful classical form — fouettes with a bright smile, and a lovely, clear ribboning of the lifted ankle round the turning leg. Her Basilio, Chen Peng, was in fine form and nailed all his spins and those terrifying Basilio split-leaps and on top of that, comedic acting.
Actually, I’d not expected so much comedy from DonQ, nor that more-massive-than-usual amounts of emoting would be needed for the roles, and both casts carried it off.
Rosa Park and Chen Peng seemed to be having a huge ball of a time as Kitri and Basilio, and they drew us in with them. They’ve danced together for a number of years, and it’s something I’d wanted to mention in another entry but kind of left off, that they have a great deal of chemistry, or perhaps familiarity, so that there’s a sense, when they dance, that they fit, and there is a joy and ease of partnership that flows into their performance, and you end up being genuinely happy when Kitri and Basilio finally get together.
Chihiro’s Kitri is a cheeky, quirky, wilful, vivid flame of a Kitri, leaping in girlishly when she first enters, lifted in the air by Kenya, who turns in his Basilio with his clean, stable moves that always make it very comfortable to watch him. Theirs was a fairy-tale sort of Kitri and Basilio story: the couple scattering and falling together again in Don Q’s house; creeping in under the cover of night, Basilio turning Kitri under the shawl, pulling her along the ground as if they’re playing (which always made the kids in the audience giggle, but which sort of brought out this lovely innocence in their relationship — and helped the picnic-mat-shawl travel across the stage, of course), the wedding kiss, Basilio spinning Kitri round and round in her wedding finery.
There’s a flash and a spark when Kenya’s Basilio misses catching Kitri’s leg as she turns, twice, and then finally catches her leg so she’s drawn in close, and he turns her round quickly to beam at her — that’s the quick charm of Basilio. And the tavern scene was hilarious, the one where Basilio resolves the problem of Lorenzo not letting him marry Kitri: Basilio, with perfect timing, taking a few staggering steps forward and laying his cloak with exaggerated care on the ground before lying down on it; Kitri’s pretense at horror and tears, exaggeratedly using her foot to hold down Basilio so that she can tug out the dagger from his torso, and casting the dagger aside as if it’s a cockroach, and downing her sorrows with the mug thoughtfully provided by the owner of the bar (played by Heidi Zolker).
I think the attraction of Don Q is that every bit of it just keeps moving. People are dancing, characters are moving along the side of the stage, while the music thrums along happily in the background. Here Gamache is bumping into Don Q twice (both equally snooty and irritated) before they sit down, there the long-suffering Sancho (played with great comic timing by SDT’s Ballet Master, Mr Mohamed Noor Sarman) is helping himself to grapes and Lorenzo (Kitri’s father, played by Mr Janek Schergen) appears to help himself to a glass (or perhaps is sniffing a glass, I don’t know — the eye is on the main stage too); and there, further along still, at the close of the tavern scene, the bar-owner is happily swaying and bumping hips with a joyously drunk Gamache.
I did kind of wish for a DVD of the performance. Stuff is ephemeral. Little things that jumped out like sparks off water — the ridiculously high leaps of Zhao Jun’s gypsy king (his was Rosa Park’s night), and Yorozu Kensuke’s wildly proudly happy I’m the boss version of the gypsy king with his powerful turns and leaps; Elaine Heng and Maughan Jemesen as Rosa-Kitri’s friends — dancing in wonderful unison as a unit — smooth and graceful, clean and precise movements; Xu Lei Ting and May Yen Cheah as Chihiro-Kitri’s friends, each with their own distinctive style of grace in dancing (the former a soft-fluid grace; the latter with clean lines); Dryads all in harmony (one friend liked Lisha Chin’s fluid form; I thought Elaine Heng stood out again as one of the Dryads); Sancho’s jigging at the end when his master swears off battling and returns home; Chen Wei as the unfortunate Don Q, standing stiff as a statue in the village square, and waving his hand theatrically in the air whenever he bowed.
Jason Carter as a fussy, flippy Gamache, threatening to make a quick kebab of Kenya’s Basilio, and Etienne Ferrere as a marvellously snooty Gamache, hamming it up with a handkerchief and a rose which did not please his allergies, and jumping with great comic wriggling in his dances. Toreadors and their amazing stampy dance; Espada in his last solo, a great manly strutting piece; toreadors and their mimicking bull fights (with very clean long lines from Dian Yu Wu); group dancers leaping in their soft shoes and bright clothing; and fans, fans, fans.
The light turning a soft purple in Act 1 when Kitri and Basilio dance. All the little moves that make a pas de deux heart leap, simple things, even. Lifting Kitri to perch on the shoulder, and the quick drop from the air into the arms and the no-hands fish dive, and the tossing of Kitri so she turns round in the air before catching her and lowering her into an arabesque en pointe (which toss, by virtue of a long red-and-black skirt, usually resulted in the skirt covering Basilio’s head, but the dancers were quick and professional). There are two long one-handed lifts as well, which really did make the heart stop.
And oh, the sets. There’s the great golden moon behind the Dryads, of course, and the colourful tavern, and the walls of the town in the first Act. But the one that I think everyone adored was the magical final scene, the bright lanterns — like something out of Miyazaki Hayao — beautiful coloured paper baubles that rose to the sky with the lifting of the curtains.
There was a handful of misses and throws here and there for the shows I watched, things that were, and passed. It’s kind of a pity that the theatre wasn’t filled up an awful lot in some of the shows I saw. It is a pity, because it such a wonderful thing when a classic is introduced, and especially something so intricate. Pretty much, Saturday night’s audience was the most receptive, and sort of lapped up every bit of it and was unendingly warm, and there was deservedly applause for basically everything, including the group dancers. I think there had been a lot of hope that audiences might try it — I think the only thing I can think of is for posters to show snippets — you know, those story-advertisements which go AND THEN A BOY MEETS A GIRL. That could get a bit hammy though, I know not.
Anyway, it was like a wonderful reminder of Christmas, and the end of a long season. Frankly, before this year, I had no idea SDT had so many performances (I’d only known of Ballet Under the Stars and of the classics, here and there). It’s nice looking back on my memories of Don Q, all the things — one can’t write them all up here — and thinking about when it’ll be back again. It’s not easy to stage — nothing is, I suppose, and it’s wonderful when you’ve got a great and varied group of performers and such different, exciting versions. It gets you wondering what the next Don Q will be like. Or the next Sleeping Beauty. Which is next March, and I hope to goodness that come hell or high water, I will be able to watch it because — nostalgia, nostalgia. It will have been 5 years since SDT first brought it onstage, and I’m looking forward to it!