Don Quichotte Du Trocadéro
A balancing act of dance and physical comedy at the 2013 Edinburgh International Festival
This article is from 2013.
José Montalvo is a choreographer who likes fusion; and as if to make sure we get this idea early on, Don Quichotte's opening solo mixes hip-hop ripples, flamenco wrists, ballet poses and the burlesque humour that will go on to characterise this take on Cervantes' 17th-century novel.
Montalvo is one half of the choreographic team that brought tigers swimming round goldfish bowls and tiny flying horses on strings to EIF in On Danse in 2007. This time round he has taken inspiration from Marius Petipa and Léon Minkus' 1869 Don Quixote ballet, but swapped the wilds of La Mancha for the Trocaderos (dance halls) of metropolitan Europe. In between riding horseback at metro stations in video interludes, Montalvo's Quichotte (Patrice Thibaud) is sometimes participant, sometimes director and sometimes gobsmacked bystander, as melting pots and mash-ups of dances come together in tapestries of glorious movement. Ballet shares the stage with hip hop. Flamenco and tap sit side by side. African rhythms layer flamenco beats. Meanwhile trusty sidekick Sancho Panza is a feisty breakdancer, flipping increasingly frazzled sequences.
Sometimes the disciplines compliment each other; sometimes it's hard to see where the seams are. A ballerina in scarlet gazelles about gracefully, carrying a flamenco fan while Quichotte mutters approval into a microphone. Suddenly she stops, legs squat, and unearthly waves travel down her limbs. Quichotte objects, 'No, no this is nonsense'. But we know that in Montalvo's eye it's not. Here all dances are equal; you don't even need to do them on your feet, as one handstand dancer demonstrates.
What connects the piece is not the slight narrative running through it but the passion of each performer, generously throwing themselves into every split-leap or breakdance spin. Humour seeps into the joy of the dance, as well as into Quichotte's buffoonery. More worrying however, is the streak of senile misogyny he seems to have developed, jiggling the buttocks of his loved one, and slapping the face of a girl for falling in love with the wrong man. But part of Montalvo's point seems to be the boundary between wit and vulgar folly, and some of the time we do find ourselves disgusted with or pitying Quichotte's pathetic wanderings rather than laughing with him.
It's a unique balancing act, combining farce with exquisite passages of dance. Tomfoolery may have kept us laughing during the piece, but it's the fluid swagger of the hip hop moves, the sizzle of flamenco dancer Sharon Sultan's quickfire feet that are the lasting memory.
Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, until 31 Aug.