1981 – Don Quixote

Ballet in three acts with prologue – Based on several scenes taken from the novel by Miguel de Cervantes – Music : Ludwig MinkusChorography : Ruldof Nureyev after Marius Petipa

Rudolf Nureyev and Don Quixote

In 1959, at the age of 21, Rudolf Nureyev with Ninel Kourgapkina as his partner gave a brilliant performance of Basil with the Kirov Ballet in Leningrad. Once he had chosen to remain in the West in 1961, this became one of his cult roles, highlighting yet another facet of the dancer/actor: his mischievous spirit and his gift for comedy.Rudolf Nureyev danced the final pas de deux with Sonia Arova as early as 1962 in New York. He then restaged the entire work, devising a new choreography after Marius Petipa and Alexandre Gorski for the Vienna Opera in 1966, and asking John Lanchbery to work on several arrangements of Minkus’ music so as to give it a livelier character.

He revived it in 1970 with the Australian Ballet (with Lucette Aldous), and the following year with the Marseille Opera Ballet which was directed at this time by Rosella Hightower (Maïna Gielgud played the role of Kitri).


don quichotte rudolf noureev

“This version shows the way in which Nureyev managed the great movements on stage even more clearly: the Spanish numbers swirl around the enormous village square and form an ingenious diversity of configuration intended to demonstrate the steps characteristic of Spain.
Although the purely classical sequence of the “vision” of Dulcinea and the Dryads was performed in its entirety – exactly as it was handed down by Kirov tradition – Nureyev preceded it with a scene involving a gypsy camp as a pretext for developing an amorous meeting between Kitri and Basil: moonlit pas de deux under the sails of a giant windmill.
Rudolf Nureyev also shortened the ballet to three acts with prologue: the gypsies, the windmills, the puppet theatre all becoming one scene, followed by the appearance of the Dryads.
Nureyev considerably expanded the comedy aspect. In his version, he introduced the spirit of “Commedia dell’Arte”, where Don Quixote would be Pantaloon, Kitri would be Columbine, and Basil, Harlequin, a brilliant, fast moving, leaping master of ceremonies, who runs from one end of the ballet to the other”. (Alexander Bland)

This Don Quixote performed by the Australian Ballet, was filmed in 1972 by Rudolf Nureyev himself; this was the first time he was on the other side of the camera. Rudolf Nureyev was already dancing Don Quixote with the Kirov ballet in Leningrad at the age of twenty. Marius Petipa’s libretto and choreography had been traditionally handed down, but had also been subjected to modifications due to successive revisions, the most important of which was that of Alexandre Gorski in 1900. Basing himself on this version, Rudolf Nureyev was to create a cheerful, lively Don Quixote, full of pace. He used humour and momentum for a series of colourful scenes concerning the thwarted love life of Kitri, the innkeeper’s daughter, and Basil, the barber, combined with the epic “Knight of the sad face”.

This Don Quixote also staged with the Australian Ballet (and filmed in 1972 by Nureyev himself) made its entry into the Paris Opera repertoire in March 1981 at the invitation of Rosella Hightower, then Dance Director.

The ballet has since been revived during the 1983-84 season, in July 1985 in the Nîmes arenas, in July 1986 at the Opera, in June 1989 at the Grand Palais, in 1990 as well as in May/June 1998 and in December 1998/January 1999 at the Palais Garnier. A new production was staged at the Bastille Opera in April/May 2002 and May/June 2004.


Nureyev revived the Kirov version (Gorski’s production after Petipa) and danced it in 1959 and 1960, bringing modifications of his own invention to it as with all his other choreographies after Petipa.

Nureyev restored the importance of the prologue: an initial view into the fantasy world of Don Quixote who makes a knight’s helmet out of a barber’s bowl, and believes he sees the white, luminous Dulcinea, the lady of his dreams, suddenly appear in his lowly, gloomy abode.

As always with Nureyev, the room, the house, the palace, is a private world; a place of torment for the soul, of dreams and nightmares that help the hero or the heroine to overcome the conventions of their subconscious.

In contrast with this, “life on the outside continues” (a phrase which was often repeated by Rudolf Nureyev with a melancholy nothing short of Chekhov): noisy and cheerful, the square in Barcelona – following the example of that in Verona for Romeo and Juliet – is the stage for an array of simultaneous actions and colourful events.

Sancho Pança, no longer a valet but a chubby, thieving, bawdy monk as they once were, is the main attraction here. He represents the old world perpetuated by Don Quixote; this idealist from another age, ill at ease in his armour, who invites Kitri to dance an old-fashioned minuet in Act 1. An old world that is going to be swept away by the youthfulness of Kitri and Basil

In his own style, Nureyev choreographed a pas de deux for Kitri and Basil in Act II, when the two lovers have run away to escape from Lorenzo who wants to marry his daughter to the ludicrous Gamache.

Rudolf Nureyev’s love of the theatre did not restrict itself to genres, consequently, the choreography contained music-hall effects such as these opening and closing umbrellas which, in the eyes of Don Quixote, seemed to be no less than frightening monsters, or such as this “floating” vision of Kitri/Dulcinea where the female dancer is lifted in the dark by a male dancer clad all in black, thus giving the illusion of a weightless being.

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Nureyev also gave his Don Quixote to the Zurich Opera Ballet (1979) and the National Ballet of Norway (1980). In 1981, at the invitation of Rosella Hightower – then Dance Director for the Paris Opera – the production made its entry into the repertoire of the Opera Ballet, where only the famous pas de deux in the third act was danced. Nureyev’s Don Quixote was subsequently to be included in the repertoire of the Central Ballet Troupe in Peking, the Matsuyama Ballet Company in Tokyo (in 1985), the Scala Ballet in Milan (in 1987) and the Swedish Royal Ballet (in 1994) Cast of the creation at the Palais Garnier The “first” Don Quixote with the Paris Opera Ballet was performed on the 6th March 1981 at the Palais Garnier with Noëlla Pontois (Kitri), Cyril Atanassoff (Basil) Elisabeth Platel (Queen of the Dryads), Georges Piletta (Gamache), Jean-Yves Lormeau (Espada), and Sylvie Clavier (Street dancer); Rudolf Nureyev danced with Noëlla Pontois in the second performance.