Ballet company to have another tilt at old favorite

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In 1985, the National Ballet of China premiered its production Don Quixote at Tianqiao Theater in Beijing.

It was choreographed by Rudolf Nureyev (1938-93), then artistic director of the Paris Opera Ballet. He worked with dancers of the National Ballet of China on the piece under the invitation of Trinidad-born, Chinese dancer-choreographer Dai Ailian (1916-2006), the first president of the National Ballet of China. Since then, Don Quixote has become a classic piece for the company.

From Sept 9 to 12, the National Ballet of China will restage Don Quixote at Tianqiao Theater, featuring the company's young dancers, including Qiu Yunting, Ma Xiaodong and Wu Sicong.

"I can still recall the rehearsals for Don Quixote," says Feng Ying, president of the National Ballet of China. "Rudolf Nureyev showcased his passion for dancing, which was very inspiring for us."

Feng, a ballerina at that time, played the role of Kitri in the 1985 production. In the ballet, Kitri is in love with the town barber Basilio and she captures the attention of those around her, including Don Quixote, who mistakes her for his Dulcinea and pursues her with fervor.

"Don Quixote is one of the true signature pieces of Rudolf Nureyev. It takes audiences to a bright and enchanting Spain," says Feng. "For ballet dancers, it's a very challenging piece. It's definitely a test for our younger performers."

Considered as one of the greatest ballet dancers of all time, Nureyev was trained at the world-famous Kirov Theatre, now known as the Mariinsky Theatre. Later he worked with the Royal Ballet and was appointed as artistic director of the Paris Opera Ballet in 1983, a position he held until 1989.

With Russian choreographer Marius Petipa and composer Ludwig Minkus, Don Quixote, based on episodes of Spanish novelist Miguel de Cervantes' classic novel Don Quixote, premiered in 1869 at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, Russia.

In 1966, as a choreographer, Nureyev created a new version of Don Quixote, which was staged at the Vienna Opera Ballet. In 1973, he directed a film version-in which he played the role of Basilio-that is still widely regarded as a classic example of its genre.

In 2013, when the National Ballet of China restaged Don Quixote, Manuel Legris was invited to be the production's artistic consultant. Legris was trained at the ballet school of the Paris Opera Ballet, which he later joined. He was appointed Danseur Etoile (star dancer) by Nureyev, then artistic director of the troupe. Now, Legris is the head of La Scala Ballet in Milan, Italy.

Ma Xiaodong, principal dancer of the National Ballet of China, played the role of Basilio in the company's production of Don Quixote in 2013.He joined the company in 2009 after graduating from Beijing Dance Academy that year.

"It's a ballet piece full of cheerfulness," says Ma, who will once again play the role of Basilio in this latest production.

"Nureyev's choreography is very expressive. There is a rich variety of dance in it, like Spanish and Gypsy dances as well as classical ballet. The music is sparkling and inspires me to dance."

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