The Big 40 for Don Quixote and the Friends of the Australian Ballet

The Friends of the Australian Ballet NSW is marking its 40th year with a special screening in Sydney of the Australian Ballet’s production of Don Quixote, a film that is also turning 40 this year.

The screening will be on March 25 at the Orpheum Theatre in Cremorne (details below).

Starring Rudolf Nureyev, Lucette Aldous, Robert Helpmann and the dancers of the Australian Ballet the film premiered at the Sydney Opera House in July 1973.

The stage premiere of the ballet, with choreography by Nureyev after Petipa, took place in the last week of March at the Adelaide Festival in 1970 and after hundreds of performances over many years it starts another season on the stage of the Sydney Opera House on April 5.

In a program article for the current Australian Ballet season of Don Q I recalled how Nureyev first staged the ballet for the Vienna State Opera in 1966.

Here’s a brief extract from the article:

“In preparation, Nureyev spent months reading Cervantes’ novel and commissioned Barry Kay to design the sets and costumes, and John Lanchbery to arrange Minkus’ score.

“Lanchbery adapted the score to suit the lighter story line devised by Nureyev, wrote some new music and tried to bring greater authenticity to the Spanish dances such as the jota, fandango and seguidilla.

“Interviewed in Show magazine by Laura Bell in 1971, Nureyev explained that he tried to keep the six main characters playing off one other, as in commedia dell’arte – ‘you can even match up the characters. Quixote is Pantalon, Kitri is Colombine, Basilio Pierrot, and so on.

“’I wanted the story not to be about Don Quixote but about how people react to him, how they take advantage of him and devise ways to mock and laugh at him. Yet they go crazy doing this, they are as fantastic as the knight is’.

“Although the vision scene of Dulcinea and the Dryads was performed as it was in the traditional St Petersburg production, Nureyev added the preceding scene at a gypsy camp where Kitri and Basilio dance against the backdrop of an oversized windmill.

“Both Nureyev and Helpmann were keen to bring the ballet to a much wider public, and with much of the budget of $700,000 coming from the private Australian company, International Arts, began filming the production with the original cast in a vacant airport hangar outside Melbourne.

“Horror stories abound of the 25 day shoot which took place in a heatwave. The rubber flooring placed on top of cork on top of cement, peeled in the heat as did some of the glued-on women’s bodices. (Nureyev didn’t want shoulder straps showing in the film.)

“Nureyev was always behind the camera filming his sequences as Basilio early in the morning, demanding that the rest of the cast dance their parts again and again through the day and evening until he was satisfied with the performance”.

Nureyev insisted on endless takes.

“All his material had to be shot first. He only had a four-week period available for all his sequences to be completed. As his schedule became tighter, the shooting day would go well into the night”.

The screening: Monday 25th March, 6.30pm

The Orpheum Theatre, 380 Military Road, Cremorne.

For more information call the Friends office on 02 9252 7322. Bookings can be made through the Orpheum box office.

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Lucette Aldous and Rudolf Nureyev, Don Quixote, 1973

Nureyev and Lucette Aldous, Don Quixote, 1973

Lucette Aldous and Rudolf Nureyev, Don Quixote, 1973