The hero of Cervantes’ novel has been the subject of many ballets. but most surviving productions are based on Petipa’s. This has a complex history; Petipa’s first version was a four-act comedy ballet, with music by Minkus and design by Isakov, Shenian, and Shagin. Don Quixote premiered at Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre on December 26, 1869 with Sobeshanskaya, Sokolov, and Geltser. His second version was extended to five acts using the same music and designs, but with many choreographic revisions, including the addition of numerous classical ensembles. This version was premiered on November 21, 1871 in St. Petersburg.
Its plot centers on the love affair between Kitri and Basillo (described in the second volume of the novel), and their attempts to escape Kitri’s arranged marriage to Gamache. Don Quixote and his servant Sancho Panza are almost incidental characters whose adventures link the plot together, for example the famous tilting windmills scene and the Don’s dream of his ideal woman, Dulcinea, which provides the ballet with its lyrical vision scene.
In 1900 Gorsky mounted a drastically revised production for Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater, retaining some of Petipa’s choreography but controversially introducing much more comic realism in the mime and characterization. This version was also shown in St. Petersburg in 1902, and remained in the repertoire of both the Bolshoi and Kirov companies forming the basis of subsequent productions. It was also the basis for the first complete production of the ballet in the West staged by Witold Borkowski for Ballet Rambert (London, 1962). Other subsequent productions based on the Petipa/Gorsky version have been Nureyev’s for Vienna State Opera Ballet (Vienna, 1966, revived for Australian Ballet, 1970) and Baryshnikov’s for American Ballet Theatre (Washington, 1978, revived for Royal Ballet, 1993).
One of the most robust and varied of the the extant classics, Don Quixote‘s mixture of Spanish dance, pure classicism, and comic farce has sustained its popular appeal. Several early ballets were choreographed on the subject of Cervantes’ hero including Hilverding (Vienna, 1740), Noverre (Vienna, 1768), Didelot (St. Petersburg, 1808), and Bournonville (Copenhagen, 1837). Twentieth-century versions of the same story include those of de Valois, Lifar, and Balanchine. Set to music by Nabokov, Balanchine’s version was created in homage to its original Dulcinea, Suzanne Farrell.