Maina Gielgud’s Don Quixote for Cape Town City Ballet

When: August 12- September 2, 2023
Where: Artscape
Company: Cape Town City Ballet and guest artists
Orchestra: Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra (CTPO), conducted by Jonathan McPhee
Tickets: R175-R745
Bookings: Computicket…/1097386/7221651/2525or Artscape Dial-A-Seat 021 421 7695 Choreography: Maina Gielgud
Lighting design: Faheem Bardien
Set design: Michael Mitchell
Costume design: Peter Cazalet  

I attended the Sunday matinee performance on the opening weekend at Artscape  in Cape Town of Maina Gielgud’s Don Quixote, staged for Cape Town City Ballet. Gielgud’s Don Q is whimsical, fun, madcap, sassy and playful. The audience chorused ‘bravo’ throughout and gave an extended standing ovation. I enjoyed this ballet immensely – and the rousing music – composed by Ludwig Minkus- which has been brilliantly orchestrated by Jonathan McPhee. The illustrious McPhee was previously music director of the Boston Ballet and is currently music director for the Lexington Symphony. Don Q is on until September 2, 2023.

This production is a big deal in many respects. There are 40 dancers on stage – including ten child dancers at each performance. The ballet features principals and artists from CTCB and international guest artists. It is an epic grand-scale ballet with gorgeous costumes, sets and lighting. The British born Gielgud is an internationally renowned ballet dancer, director and choreographer and has choreographed and staged ballets around the world. She received rave notices for her Don Q, for the Boston Ballet in 2012 (Nureyev version).

This 2023 Don Q production for CTCB is Gielgud’s own version. She told me:  “It is my own version based on the Petipa, with additional choreography which I did for the Gypsy scene, the Bridesmaids and other bits and pieces… Antonio Casalinho has special permission from Mikhail Baryshnikov to perform MB’s choreography of the Drunk solo in the Tavern scene.”  Antonio Casalinho is First Soloist from the Bavarian State Ballet and multi award winner of Prix de Lausanne. Casalinho danced at the performance that I attended on Sunday and he is utterly mesmerising to watch. It was a privilege to see this ballet star in Cape Town. To see when he performs, click here or see CTCB/Artscape websites.

This production of Don Q for CTCB 2023 is new in parts and Gielgud has used some of the choreography that she did, working with CBCL – Companhia de Ballet Classico de Leiria in Portugal. She worked with the company, during Covid. She says: “I staged a full Giselle, full Swan Lake, full Sleeping Beauty and then excerpts from Don Quixote.” [Gielgud lives in London].

It is thrilling to see international guest artists, dancing along with our own CTCB artists. Gielgud talks about the international guest artists: “Francisco Gomes, Jonathan Leyva, Maryana Pobuta, Emma Sicilia and Joao Xavier – all trained at Annarella Conservatorio and danced in my productions for Companhia de Ballet Classico de Leiria [CBCL]. Antonio Casalinho and Margarita Fernandes, currently, First Soloist and Soloist respectively, in the Bavarian State Ballet Munich, also trained there and were in all my productions at CBCL. Vadim Muntagirov and Fumi Kaneko have danced many different productions with Royal Ballet and others.”

Gielgud’s production of Don Q 2023, for CTCB is opulent and plush and is very much a rom-com- romantic comedy- with dashing toreadors, gypsies and a fabulous company of child dancers (read on for more on that and the fantastic puppet scene) and of course the famous windmill image of Cervantes – with Don Quixote ‘tilting at windmills’ – in his illusions and delusions. There are numerous set changes (Michael Mitchell) stunning costumes by Peter Cazalet, beautiful lighting design by Faheem Bardien – conjuring up a zany and magical world for the Don Quixote adventure which ultimately ends well, happy and upbeat. By the way, Cazalet received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 58th Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards [awards for productions in 2022] and it is wonderful to see the work of this eminent theatre designer. There is lots of action in Don Q but Gielgud has framed and contained and articulated each scene with her signature attention to placing and detail. Each scene is impeccably articulated.

I loved the inclusion of the child dancers in Don Q. Roxy Levy is a répétiteur for this production and worked with the child dancers (age 8-13). There are ten child dancers in each performance and all up there are thirty kids involved for this season – three casts. I asked Levy if it is the norm to feature child dancers Don Q and she said that it is not but that CTCB is committed to nurturing young talent and as she says, “they add so much charm”. They do. The children are not only a delight in Don Quixote but their dancing is impressive. I was wowed by the puppet scene in Act 2. I think that this scene could be a standalone ballet for children – beguiling. They are clearly having a great time on stage. I noticed that the children in the audience were delighted by the antics of the child dancers.

I am not a ballet critic so I review ballet from a theatrical point of view. This is my first time seeing Don Q – the ballet – on stage (I have watched snippets online). I was enthralled by this vibrant production.

✳ Featured image: Maina Gielgud’s production of Don Quixote, for Cape Town City Ballet [CTCB] is on August 12- September 2, 2023 at Artscape. This pic – Jonathan Leyva [Artist CTCB] and Kirstel Paterson [Principal CTCB] in Don Q. The lineup changes and there is recorded music at some performances. The Cape Town Philharmonic plays at some of the performances. For a schedule to see the lineup of dancers and international guest artists, see