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Don Quixote review at Royal Opera House, London – ‘a joyful experience’

Marianela Nunez in Don Quixote at Royal Opera House. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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Cervantes’ nudnik knight-errant is back. Carlos Acosta’s 2013 production of Don Quixote for the Royal Ballet is a big, bold, irresistible gift for the company. In the hands of the first night cast, it’s a marvel of merriment, full of pratfalling comic business (the massive fish slap is a total gem) and gasp-inducing virtuosity.

To strip the 19th century classic of stilted formality and infuse it with a more authentic Spanish verve, Acosta has his cast concentrate on their acting chops and ham hocks – they cheer and “ole”, they click, stomp and dance on wagons and taverna tables. It’s possibly not the most comfortable territory for the Royal, but once the first yell emerges then the fun only escalates.

Marianela Nunez’s inherent sunniness finds radiant expression in the role of Kitri – she makes a whiplash quadruple turn seem like a natural expression of a girl’s joie de vivre – yet her dancing is shaded with a humour and softness that’s complemented by Vadim Muntagirov’s Basilio.

Together they convince as a couple whose relationship is based on flirtatious piss-taking and tender sensuousness as well as bravura feats. A short but heartfelt pas de deux amid the bullfight-themed badinage of Act I’s town square (vividly designed by Tim Hatley) beautifully presages the dreamy, dusk-set duets of the following act.

Knockout performances abound. Anna Rose O’Sullivan’s Amour is light, bright and busy as a songbird, while Ryoichi Hirano excels as Espada, a louche matador with coral-coloured breeches and an ego problem. It’s an irrepressible triumph.

Dancer Marianela Nunez: ‘The Royal Opera House and the Royal Ballet are my home and my family’

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Comedy fish slaps and classical dives combine to make a genuinely joyful performance