Don Quixote (ballet)

Don Quixote (ballet)
Important Ballets & *Revivals of Marius Petipa
Marius Petipa -1898.JPG

*Paquita (1847, *1881)
*Le Corsaire (1858, 1863, 1868, 1885, 1899)
The Pharaoh's Daughter (1862, *1885, *1898)
Le Roi Candaule (1868, *1891, *1903)
Don Quixote (1869, *1871)
La Bayadère (1877, *1900)
*Giselle (1884, 1899, 1903)
*Coppélia (1884)
*La fille mal gardée (1885)
*La Esmeralda (1886, 1899)
The Talisman (1889)
The Sleeping Beauty (1890)
The Nutcracker (1892)
Cinderella (1893)
The Awakening of Flora (1894)
*Swan Lake (1895)
*The Little Humpbacked Horse (1895)
Raymonda (1898)
The Seasons (1900)
Harlequinade (1900)

Don Quixote is a ballet originally staged in four acts and eight scenes, based on an episode taken from the famous novel Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes. It was originally choreographed by Marius Petipa to the music of Ludwig Minkus and was first presented by the Ballet of the Imperial Bolshoi Theatre of Moscow, Russia on 26 December [O.S. 14 December] 1869. Petipa and Minkus revised the ballet into a far more expanded and elaborated edition in five acts and eleven scenes for the Imperial Ballet, first presented on 21 November [O.S. 9 November] 1871 at the Imperial Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre of St. Petersburg.

All modern productions of the Petipa/Minkus ballet are derived from the version staged by Alexander Gorsky for the Bolshoi Theatre of Moscow in 1900, a production the Ballet Master staged for the Imperial Ballet of St. Petersburg in 1902.



The two chapters of the novel that the ballet is mostly based on were first adapted for the ballet in 1740 by Franz Hilverding in Vienna, Austria. In 1768, the great Balletmaster Jean Georges Noverre mounted a new version of Don Quixote in Vienna to the music of Josef Starzer, a production that appears to have been a revival of the original by Hilverding.

Charles Didelot, known today as the "father of Russian Ballet," staged a two-act version of Don Quixote in St. Petersburg for the Imperial Ballet in 1808. In 1809 a version of the work was mounted at Her Majesty's Theatre by James Harvey D'Egville. Paul Taglioni (uncle of Marie Taglioni) presented his own version of Don Quixote for the Berlin Court Opera Ballet in 1839, and his uncle, Salvatore Taglioni, set a production at the Teatro Regio, in Turin, in 1843.

The most famous and enduring ballet adaptation was created by the choreographer Marius Petipa, unrivaled Maître de Ballet of the Tsar's Imperial Ballet of St. Petersburg, and the composer Ludwig Minkus. By special commission, Petipa mounted the work for the Ballet of the Imperial Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. The production premiered on 26 December [O.S. 14 December] 1869 to great success. Principal dancers at the premiere were Wilhelm Vanner (Don Quixote), Anna Sobeshchanskaya (Kitri), Sergei Sokilov (Basil), Polina Karpakova (Dulcinea), Vassily Geltser (Sancho Panza), Leon Espinosa (Harlequin), and Dmitri Kuznetsov (Gamache).

Petipa then restaged the ballet in a far more opulent and grandiose production for the St. Petersburg Imperial Ballet, premiering 21 November [O.S. 9 November] 1871. Principal dancers included Alexandra Vergina (Kitri), Timofei Stukolkin (Don Quixote), and Lev Ivanov (Basil). This new production consisted of five acts (eleven episodes, a prologue, and an epilogue) and used the same designs as the first production.

Alexander Gorsky presented his revival of the ballet for the Ballet of the Moscow Imperial Bolshoi Theatre on 19 December [O.S. 6 December] 1900, a production that he then staged for the Imperial Ballet of St. Petersburg, premiering 2 February [O.S. 20 January] 1902. The cast was an eminent one: Kitri was danced by Mathilde Kschessinskaya, Basil by Nikolai Legat, Don Quixote by Aleksei Bulgakov, Sancho Panza by Enrico Cecchetti, and Gamache by Pavel Gerdt, with the roles of the Street Dancer, Amor, and Juanita taken by the young ballerinas Olga Preobrazhenskaya, Tamara Karsavina, and Anna Pavlova respectively.

For his productions of 1900 and 1902 Gorsky interpolated new dances. For his 1900 production, Gorsky added new dances to music by Anton Simon – a variation for a new character added by Gorsky called the Dryad Queen, and a dance for the Dryad Queens's mistresses, as well as an additional Spanish dance for the last scene. When he staged the production in St. Petersburg in 1902, the composer Riccardo Drigo composed two new variations for Kschessinskaya – the famous Variation of Kitri with the fan for the ballet's final pas de deux, and the Variation of Kitri as Dulcinea for the scene of Don Quixote's dream (these variations are still retained in modern productions and are often erroneously credited to Minkus). Gorsky then interpolated the Grand pas des toréadors from the 1881 Petipa/Minkus ballet Zoraiya, a piece that is still included in modern productions of Don Quixote.

The ballet lived on in Russia well after the revolution of 1917, whereas many other ballets ceased to be performed into the Soviet period. As a matter of fact, it became part of the permanent repertoire both of the Moscow Bolshoi Theatre (the most famous productions being those of Rostislav Zakharov and Kasyan Goleizovsky in 1940, which included new music by Vassily Soloviev-Sedoy) and the Leningrad Kirov Theatre (which saw productions by Fedor Lopukhov in 1923, with new choreography for the fandango, and by Pyotr Gusev in 1946, with the scenario modified by Yuri Slonomsky and with new dances introduced by Nina Anisimova).

From Russia to the rest of the world

Don Quixote was brought from Russia to other countries first by Anna Pavlova's company in 1924 in an abridged version of Gorsky's 1902 production, though the full-length work was not staged abroad for many years. The famous Grand Pas de Deux from the ballet's final scene was staged in the west as early as the 1940s, given first by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. The first full-length production mounted outside of Russia was a completely new staging, produced and choreographed by Ninette de Valois for The Royal Ballet in 1950.[1] The first full revival of the original Russian production to be staged in the West was by Ballet Rambert in 1962. In 1966 Rudolf Nureyev staged his version for the Vienna State Opera Ballet, with Minkus' score adapted by John Lanchbery. In 1973, Nureyev filmed his version with the Australian Ballet, and Robert Helpmann as Don Quixote. Mikhail Baryshnikov mounted his own version in 1980 for American Ballet Theatre, a production that has been staged by many companies, including the Paris Opera Ballet. Today the ballet has been staged by many companies all over the world in many different versions, and is considered to be among the great classics of the ballet.

American choreographer George Balanchine famously created a modern version in 1965 for the New York City Ballet to the music of Nicolas Nabokov, with Balanchine himself appearing as Don Quixote and Suzanne Farrell as Dulcinea. This production had nothing to do with the Minkus version. It was only given until the mid 1970s, and then taken out of the repertory of the company. In 2005 it was reconstructed by Farrell for the company, and continues to be performed.

Libretto for Petipa's original production of 1869

Aaron Smyth as Basilio in 2010

Characters —

  • Bachelor of Arts Sanson Carrasco
  • Antonina
  • Don Quixote
  • Sancho Panza
  • Lorenzo, an innkeeper
  • Kitri, his daughter
  • Basilio, a barber, in love with Kitri
  • A Gypsy Chief
  • Graziosa, his daughter
  • Dulcinea
  • Gamache, betrothed to marry Kitri
  • Villagers, Toreadors, Gypsies, Fairies, Gnomes, Dryads.


Don Quixote's Study

Bachelor Sanson Carrasco is seen covering a bookcase with wallpaper, while Antonina is putting some rusty old armour and a helmet made of pasteboard into a cupboard.

Don Quixote de la Mancha enters, reading a book. He goes to the bookcase and, not finding it, believes it has been stolen by evil magicians. Then he settles into an armchair and continues reading. He delights in stories of brave knights, fabulous giants and other fantastical creatures. But most of all Don Quixote dreams of his beloved Dulcinea, a woman that he believes to be so lovely and noble that she must be divinity. Gradually he nods and falls asleep to dream of their romantic adventures. Darkness falls.

Suddenly his servant, Sancho Panza, climbs hurriedly through the window. In pursuit are several angry women from the market from whom he has lifted bread and a chicken. Awakened by the commotion, Don Quixote sends the women away.

Don Quixote tells Sancho that he is determined to seek adventures as a knight-errant, all the while searching of his beloved Dulcinea. He shows him the pasteboard helmet, which, with one sweep from his sword, becomes a shapeless mass on the floor. Antonina suggests that he should use a basin instead, which would make a splendid helmet. Don Quixote enthusiastically agrees and, placing it on his head, orders Sancho to bring him his armour, sword and spear, and to make ready his horse, Rosinante.

Act I

A market-place in Barcelona

Kitri, an inn-keeper's daughter, steals out of her house to meet her beloved, the barber Basilio. Her father, Lorenzo, sees the lovers and sends Basilio away, bringing Kitri to tears.

Now comes the rich nobleman Gamache, who, likewise in love with Kitri, goes to Lorenzo and asks for his daughter's hand. The innkeeper accepts with delight, but Kitri, appalled at the thought of wedding the foppish nobleman, runs away.

Dancing begins in the square and some toreadors try to kidnap the girls they fancy, but their relatives and lovers hasten to their aid. At this moment Don Quixote arrives mounted on Rosinante, followed by Sancho, who is riding a donkey. At his master's command Sancho sounds his rusted horn, causing the townspeople to cover their ears.

Lorenzo runs out of his inn, and Don Quixote, taking him for the lord of a famous castle, dismounts Rosinante and, falling to his knees, begs to be allowed to serve him. Charmed, Lorenzo invites the knight to sit on his balcony.

Sancho remains in the square where he is surrounded by girls who induce him to take part in a game of blind man's buff. Then some boys bring in a blanket on which they place Sancho and proceed to toss him into the air. Don Quixote hurries to his assistance and sets him free.

Peasants gather in the square and dancing resumes. Kitri returns and, noticing her, Don Quixote acclaims her as his Dulcinea, whom evil magicians have reduced to human form. Becoming jealous of her affection for Basilio, Don Quixote attempts to woo her by partnering her in a minuet. Lorenzo berates Kitri for carrying on with Basilio. Kitri and Basilio then run away, and Lorenzo and Gamache follow them. Don Quixote orders Sancho to bring Rosinante, so that he may also to set out in pursuit.

Act II

Scene 1 – The interior of an inn

Kitri enters with Basilio and joins those who are dancing. At the height of the merriment, Lorenzo and Gamache arrive, followed by Don Quixote and Sancho. Seeing his daughter, Lorenzo decides to give his blessing to her union with the nobleman Gamache. Basilio becomes annoyed and, reproaching Kitri for her unfaithfulness, draws a sword and stabs himself. As he lies dying he begs Lorenzo to unite him to Kitri, but Lorenzo and Gamache refuse.

Don Quixote approaches Gamache and challenges him to a duel for having refused a dying man's wish. Gamache declines to fight and the merrymakers drive him out of the inn. Taking pity, Lorenzo agrees to unite Basilio and Kitri. At this moment, Basilio pulls out the sword and tells everyone it was a joke.

Scene 2 – A camp of gypsies among the windmills outside the village

A clown is seen walking with Graziosa, the gypsy chief's daughter. A gypsy tells the chief of the approach of Don Quixote. The chief plans a trick for his benefit and, putting on a mantle crown, sits down as though he were a king on a throne. Don Quixote is deceived and kneels to the chief in homage. The chief bids that he sit beside him and orders a festival to be given in his honor. This begins with Gypsy dances and is followed by a performance of the marionette theatre.

Don Quixote is delighted with the entertainment but, mistaking the heroine for his Dulcinea and the marionettes for soldiers attacking her, he rises to assault them. The gypsies are terrified. At this moment the clown and Graziosa run away.

Flushed with victory, the knight kneels and renders thanks to heaven. Seeing the moon, he takes it for his Dulcinea and tries to get to her. As he approaches the windmills he can see the moon no longer and thinks that evil magicians have hidden his beloved mistress. So, spear in hand, he tilts at the wings of the windmill, which he mistakes for a giant. Alas, the knight is caught by one of the wings and flung into the air. He falls unconscious at Sancho's feet.


Scene 1 – A forest

Through the trees appears Sancho leading Rosinante, upon which sits the wounded Don Quixote. The servant lifts his master down and places him on the grass, so that he may rest. Then, tying up the horse, he goes to sleep. Don Quixote also tries to sleep, but is troubled by fantastic dreams.

Scene 2 – The enchanted Garden of Dulcinea

Fairies appear surrounded by gnomes, and Don Quixote finds himself dressed in shining armor. Then comes a succession of fearsome monsters, the last being a gigantic spider, who spins a web. The knight attacks the spider, which he slashes in half with his sword. At that same moment the spider's web vanishes to reveal a beautiful garden. At the entrance stands Dulcinea, surrounded by Dryads. Don Quixote kneels before his beloved. At this moment everything vanishes.

Act IV

Scene 1 – The Duke's hunting grounds

The sound of hunting horns is heard and through the clearing appears the Duke and his retinue. He awakens Don Quixote, who falls on his knees in homage. The Duke invites the knight to accompany him to his castle for a fiesta.

Scene 2 – The Duke's Castle

It is fiesta time. Don Quixote watches the dancing with the Duke and Duchess. Suddenly the Knight of the Silver Moon challenges him to a duel, which results in the latter being vanquished.

The victorious knight proves to be none other than Bachelor Sanson Carrasco, who forces Don Quixote to vow that he will not unsheathe his sword for a whole year. The sorrowful knight, true to his vow, takes up his warlike gear and, followed by Sancho, sets out for home.


Although many of the incidents in Cervantes's novel were used in the ballet's original libretto, several of them are often omitted in modern productions, thereby simplifying the plot. Often, in modern productions, Don Quixote does not smash his pasteboard helmet, but sets out with the shaving basin right from the beginning. Nor does he watch a puppet show and demolish the marionettes, and Sancho's tossing in the blanket is now also frequently omitted, as is the duel with the Knight of the Silver Moon. In both Nureyev and Baryshnikov's productions, Sanson Carrasco and Antonina do not appear at all – Quixote and Sancho simply ride off after Kirti and Basilio, now married, perform their pas de deux as part of the wedding celebration, and the ballet ends. However, the windmill sequence is never omitted in productions of the ballet, although in both the Nureyev and the Baryshnikov productions, it takes place before the wedding, not after.

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