‘Don Quixote’ as never before

by Nobuko Tanaka

Special To The Japan Times

Paris comes to Tokyo this week with a production from the Théâtre National de Chaillot of a “choreographic essay” by José Montalvo, one of its artistic directors. Featuring 13 dancers and Patrice Thibaud, an actor routinely dubbed a genius, the premiere of “Don Quichotte du Trocadéro” in January met with extraordinary acclaim. Since then, this version of “Don Quixote” has toured in France, Germany, Italy, England — and to Edinburgh, where it wowed the world’s largest art festival.

On a trip to Japan in October, Montalvo openly shared his delight at all this during a press conference, where he said, “I am so pleased we have already staged this more than 100 times. As a dance program is normally performed for just a couple of days in one place, you can see we have been doing it almost non-stop this year.”

Set in today’s workaday Paris, this mixed dance and music piece draws on Miguel de Cervantes’ epic 1605 novel about a daydreamer Spanish knight named Alonso who, at the age of 50, realizes he’s not achieved anything in his life and sets off with his loyal attendant Sancho Panza to make his mark on the world.

Though he grew up in France, Montalvo was born in the southern Spanish city of Valencia. Hence he said in October that the essence of “Don Quixote” was with him from an early age. “My mother is Spanish and used to be a flamenco dancer,” he said, “so there were always many people gathered at home and they danced and laughed and enjoyed life together. And as ‘Don Quixote’ was pretty well the first burlesque novel in Europe, I aimed to remain true to Cervantes’ humorous character and tried to make this program full of that marvelous spirit.”

Drawing on the talents of classical dancers and jazz, hip-hop and flamenco ones, and with Thibaud, 49, in the title role ensuring humor of the highest order, Montalvo said his work — whose title’s “Trocadéro” refers to the Paris square where the Chaillot theater (named after a nearby palace) is located — aims to portray a story going on inside an old man’s head, with the dance and music giving form to his flights of fancy.

“The man has always traveled around by Metro — not like the medieval knight on his horse, Rochinante — but he’s always turned over the idea of a utopia in his mind,” Montalvo, who also directs, explained. “So I think anyone who has a dream, or who has an ambition to change this world, could be a modern-day Don Quixote like this man.

“Cervantes created great stories, which were brilliant mixes of the classics and modernism of his day, so I aimed to pay tribute to him and also pay homage to the great classical ballet choreographer Marius Petipa (whose 1869 “Don Quixote” is a mainstay of companies the world over) with my completely new version that includes all kinds of dance and modern visual effects.”

• More top overseas guests follow hot on Rochinante’s hooves at the same venue, where the Cape Town-based, Olivier Award-winning Isango Ensemble present “La Bohème Abanxaxhi,” a reworking by the company’s expat English founder, Mark Dornford-May, of Giacomo Puccini’s 1896 opera “La Bohème” that portrays people’s fight against poverty and disease in today’s Africa.