Name recognition has been a weapon of choice for dance companies in this recession: witness the glut of Alices and Cinderellas that have appeared on the UK stage in recent years. The trend has now reached France, where the Paris Opera Ballet’s Petipa-inspired Don Quixote is followed this month by two reinventions of the ballet: Rui Lopes Graça’s for the Ballet du Rhin, and José Montalvo’s Don Quichotte du Trocadéro. Unfortunately, the latter, which had its world premiere at the Théâtre de Chaillot at the weekend, doesn’t have much to offer beyond its marketing potential.
Don Quichotte du Trocadéro is Montalvo’s first solo production following his separation from longtime choreographic partner Dominique Hervieu, who took over Lyon’s Dance Biennial last year. Their shared aesthetic, a cheerful take on multiculturalism based on collaboration with dancers from all backgrounds, is still evident in Don Quichotte, but it has grown stale. This urban version of the ballet brings together video projections of farcical happenings (horses, dance battles) inside Paris Métro stations and a small troupe of dancers on a bare stage. The production values are uneven, with garish lighting and a taped cut-and-paste of the Minkus score.
Proceedings are orchestrated by the least appealing Don Quixote figure ever to set foot on a stage: think a lecherous uncle who always has salacious jokes at the ready over Christmas dinner. Actor Patrice Thibaud, better known for his TV and film work, goes all out in miming his adventures, and while he carries the very beginning of the show effectively, the act grows so vulgar that no sane character would want to be part of his depressingly sexist fantasy. This Don loves nothing more than women fondling their breasts on stage, yet smugly provides his Kitri with a virtual chastity belt.
With a master of ceremonies like that, the production soon degenerates. After roughly half an hour, Montalvo casts aside all storytelling pretences to focus on a strangely unmusical collage of dance snippets that serve as cheerful but inane displays of fun and diversity. Hip-hop meets vaguely balletic steps, gymnastics moves and bullfighting references; a flamenco dancer is wheeled out at the halfway point to no purpose whatsoever, and competes for attention with a sudden burst of tap dancing.
This Don Quichotte also treats the original classical choreography with such careless contempt that you have to wonder what drew Montalvo to the project in the first place. His dancers are left to attempt steps far beyond them, interspersed with what looks like Chicken Dance moves. A race to the bottom, despite the hip-hop dancers’ intermittent brilliance.