The Royal Ballet’s Don Q Premiere – Notes from La Mancha

On Monday we had the opportunity to team up with one of our favourite contributors, Dave Wilson (@DaveTriesBallet), and take over the @RoyalOperaHouse on Twitter to relay the Royal Ballet’s 2013-2014 season opener, a gala for Carlos Acosta’s new production of Don Quixote.

Here Dave talks about his experience and impressions. Look out for plenty of images taken by us during the evening and by the wonderful Alice Pennefather during the general rehearsal:

What goes on when a new ballet production premieres? I teamed up with The Ballet Bag to find out, taking over the Royal Opera House’s Twitter feed to relay to ballet audiences around the world the opening gala of Carlos Acosta’s new Don Quixote for the Royal Ballet.

Arriving 3.5 hours before curtain-up, there was a tangible buzz around the Royal Opera House. Not only was this the first time the Royal Ballet had performed Don Quixote in 10 years, but it was Acosta’s first production for the company, with him leading the cast alongside Marianela Nuñez.

The view backstage – Photo: © The Ballet Bag

After a quick visit to the crew in charge of props (who had been working on the production for around 6 months), we caught up with First Soloist Bennet Gartside (Gamache, Lorenzo’s intended for his daughter Kitri) who was excited “for Carlos” and for how “fresh and exciting” the production was, as well as “honoured to be asked to do this role”. I wanted to know what he thought the audience should watch out for and he immediately replied: “Nela’s first jetés. She’ll kill it, bring it back to life, and kill it again!” (It wasn’t just her entrance that was stunning, Nuñez was on fine form all evening).

We caught a glimpse of Tim Hatley’s bright and colourful set designs on our way to see First Artist Nathalie Harrison in the corps de ballet dressing room. Nathalie was kind enough to show us some of the absolutely gorgeous costumes she would be wearing and I couldn’t get over the amount of detail in each one! Popping into the dressing room to say hello to the rest of the corps we were definitely feeling the “Carlos love”: everyone was determined that the last year’s worth of work would culminate in the best possible performance to do him proud.

Nathalie Harrison holding Dulcinea’s costume – Photo: © The Ballet Bag

Talking about the Spanish flavour of the piece, Nathalie joked about how the dancers had been spending time working on their language skills: “In parts of the ballet the corps break into Spanish, which was rather awkward to start – it doesn’t sound very interesting if everyone just shouts ‘Olé!’ The names of all the Spanish dances proved confusing too: flamenco, habanera, seguidilla… resulting in one (unnamed) dancer stating in an early rehearsal ‘I think I’m a flamingo’” (wrong ballet, as the premiere of Alice in Wonderland, with its corps of flamingos, had been 3 years ago).

Tutus for the Dryads scene – Photo: © The Ballet Bag

Just before the doors opened to the public, we caught up with Principal Character Artist Gary Avis (playing Kitri’s father Lorenzo) who was halfway into glueing his beard on for the evening. While he attached his facial hair, I wanted to know what it was like to play two characters in the run (he is also playing the title role of Don Quixote). The Don is arguably the larger role, but Gary said the fun of playing Lorenzo just edged it, and that if he doesn’t concentrate he can get confused over whether he is meant to be protecting (Lorenzo) or in love (the Don) with Kitri. During our conversation there was a really touching moment when the man of the moment, Carlos Acosta, came over the backstage tannoy. Wishing the company the best, he channeled his inner Yoda saying “May the force be with you tonight!” and adding “see you in Barcelona!”. After a quick group selfie with Gary, we wished him luck while he promised to “try not to be as hammy as my props…”

The Paul Hamlyn Hall in the interval of Don Quixote – Photo: © The Ballet Bag

Making sure my bow tie was neatly tied, we headed out to the Paul Hamlyn Hall to talk to the evening’s audience. The excitement was swelled by some gorgeous floral displays (complete with red fans) and we got down to serious business – asking people for their best Kitri impressions! I’ll leave the performance review to the professionals, but I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed it and am sure this Don Q. will become a staple Royal Ballet production for years to come. It was fascinating to catch people’s different reactions at the intervals, and hear about what they had or had not enjoyed! That being said, trying to poll audiences, juggle phone, tablet and notepad whilst writing tweets and taking pictures is a skill I’ve yet to perfect!

As the seemingly endless flower throw of bright red carnations rained down on the cast and production team, I think all would agree that the evening had been a success. Whilst any new production will garner differences of opinion, it really felt that the evening had been a special one. It was an honour to feel that I had been able to contribute to that, sharing the excitement with tweeters across the world. If you followed along, or were there in person, I hope you had as much fun as I did!

(A huge thank you to Linda and Emilia at The Ballet Bag and Chris Shipman at the ROH for giving me this opportunity. Also, huge thanks to Bennet, Nathalie and Gary for giving us some of their precious time on what was surely a very busy evening for them!)

Click to launch slideshow:

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Photos by © Alice Pennefather (Courtesy of the Royal Opera House ) and © The Ballet Bag.

About Dave Wilson:

Having never danced before in his life, David took his first ballet class at age 23 on a whim. He quickly became addicted and has since been blogging regularly about his journey. Alongside many classes, he recently started performing with a local ballet group and takes any opportunity to watch ballet.

You can follow Dave on Twitter @DaveTriesBallet or read more about his journey at Dave Tries Ballet.