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Review: CUBC’s Don Quixote

A classic love story with a slightly irrelevant title character

Cambridge University Ballet Club’s Don Quixote was enjoyable to watch, but did have elements that slightly disrupted the flow of the performance – though some of these were due to the ballet itself. For example, there's quite a large plot gap between acts one and two; Don Quixote and Sancho Panza suddenly find themselves in a gypsy camp ,even though at the end of the previous act there are no signs at all of them preparing to leave the town where they have been staying. The second act is then largely set in Don Quixote’s dreams, which, while providing welcome variety in set and costume, felt somewhat irrelevant to the whole. CUBC dealt with these more confusing elements of the writing by producing an excellent programme that outlined the plot well, and Tom Attridge and Alex Lake’s photos complimented this perfectly.

Overall the dancing was good, although it felt slightly odd that Barry Bryce, as the title character, wasn’t involved in much of it. The soloists were strong, and Jasmine Coomber consistently commanded the audience’s attention with her amazing energy and charisma. Both she and Panagiotis Boutris handled their props impressively during quite complicated dance routines, and didn’t seem fazed at all by the challenge presented to them. Laura Perez-Klein was also notable as Sancho Panza, particularly in the dance with the village girls. She both made a real effort to be in time with the music and acted a lack of control well, not allowing it to make her performance look careless in any way. Matthew Williams and Zoe Wilson were also very good as the lead gypsies, bouncing off each other’s energies and appearing natural onstage.

The choreography was also done well, but it would have been nice to see more Spanish influence given that setting is so important in Cervantes’ original text. Having said this, Espada’s dances with a muleta cloth had some animalistic movements that were very evocative of toreros, and the one routine using castanets also helped the authenticity of the performance – though these could have been handled more confidently. At one point Ana Gomes also appeared in a flamenco dress, but the connection here felt a little half-hearted and the ballet style not particularly adventurous. Some of the group work did stand out, such as the dryad dances in act two, which made use of the different subcategories of nymph to divide the dancers before bringing them back together with some very effective and elegant use of canon.

Yet the ensemble dancers were occasionally a little out of time with each other and, particularly in moments where clapping was involved, they appeared unsure of what they were doing. Each time there was the odd person who continued for a beat or two after the others, which is a small detail I know, but one that undermined what would otherwise have been a good addition to the soloists’ performances. On the other hand, the ensemble was excellent at maintaining presence onstage and staying attentive during some lengthy recitals. The lighting and set were largely subtle enough to let the focus remain on this choreography, apart from one fun moment when Don Quixote was attacking the villagers and the stage was bathed in bright moving colours.

Overall I would note that whilst there were some problems with the production, it did manage to entertain everyone. From the five-year old girl in the row behind (who was excitedly admiring the gorgeous costumes) to the elderly couple in front, we were, I think, all kept engaged for two and a half hours, which is undoubtedly impressive.

3/5 stars.

Header courtesy of Anna Gawedzka Photography.