Ballet Review: Joburg Ballet’s Don Quixote – Powerful Partnership, Or Orchestrated Enjoyment

October 18, 2023




Joburg Ballet: Don Quixote / Staged by Angela Malan / The Mandela, Joburg Theatre, Braamfontein, Johannesburg


All classical ballets involve stories within stories, and Don Quixote features, among others, the interwoven tales of the eponymous hero (if such he is, as a well-meaning but deluded old codger wandering across the countryside), the romance between Kitri and Basilio and the conflict between their backgrounds, and the other smaller narratives involving dreamed-up dryads and more.

But, in an exuberant, beaming production of a ballet that is well-known but perhaps sometimes undervalued because of its cheerfully frivolous plot, perhaps the most thrilling secondary story in the performance under review was the fresh and exciting partnership between regular (and popular – there are loud cheers as he steps onto stage) soloist Ruan Galdino as Basilio and Darragh Hourrides, in her debut lead role, as Kitri.

Initially, the prospect of watching a new lead featured partnership (albeit between long-time colleagues) is intriguing, but there is more to it than that. Galdino suffered a debilitating ankle industry fairly recently and has done incredibly well to be on stage for this production at all – and it would be foolish to assume that audiences would not be at least a little nervous watching him doing jumps and lifts. And with Hourrides picking up not only the extra responsibility of the lead role but also the technical and physical challenges, the quality and intensity of her response would be unavoidably under the microscope.

Happily – for the dancers themselves, the company (still in transition in terms of major changes in administrative staff) and the audience, the pair more than just pull it off. They both excel technically, with one seconds-long lift in particular providing proof of either Galdino’s progress in healing or his high pain threshold and both matching the other for emotional expression, both in passion and in entertaining, wordless acting using their faces and bodies.

Other individual highlights include Craig Pedro’s outrageously camp Gamache, who steals every scene he’s in; Cristina Nakos as a sultry Mercedes; Chloe Blair, who makes Cupid Variation the unmissable focus of the Dream scene; and Gabriel Fernandes, whose Espada has a strut and a panache to go with a sensational sneer.

Having the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra in the pit improves an already delightful experience by several levels. If you’re lucky enough to sit near the front, it’s possible to feel the vibrations of the massed strings, horns and percussion, and appreciating the musicians’ sublime skills at the same time as you regard the athleticism and flair of the dancers means the magic of sitting in a theatre feels immediately present from the opening scene onwards.