Don Quixote

Ballet in five acts and eleven scenes
Music by Ludwig Minkus

World Première
26th December [O.S. 14th December] 1869
Imperial Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow

Original 1869 Cast
Don Quixote
Wilhelm Vanner

Sancho Panza
Vassily Geltser

Anna Sobeshchanskaya

Sergei Sokolov

Pelagaya Karpakova

Dmitri Kuznetsov

Saint Petersburg Première
21st November [O.S. 9th November] 1871
Imperial Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre

Original 1871 Cast
Don Quixote
Timofei Stukolkin

Alexandra Vergina

Lev Ivanov

Nikolai Goltz

Based on the novel Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote tells the story of the old hidalgo, who reads many chivalric romance novels. One day, with Sancho Panza as his squire, Don Quixote sets out on an adventure as a medieval knight to bring justice to the world and honour to Dulcinea, the lady of his dreams.

Timofei Stukolkin as Don Quixote (1871)
Timofei Stukolkin as Don Quixote (1871)


Petipa’s Don Quixote was originally produced for the Bolshoi Theatre of Moscow in four acts and eight scenes. It was premièred on the 26th December [O.S. 14th December] 1869. Petipa and Ludwig Minkus later mounted the work for the Imperial Ballet of Saint Petersburg in an expanded edition of five acts and eleven scenes. For the 1871 revival, many changes were made to the libretto. One prime example is that it was in this staging that the roles of Kitri and Dulcinea became a dual role. In the 1869 production, they were two separate roles for two different ballerinas and rather than mistaking Kitri for Dulcinea, Don Quixote regarded her as his protegée. Another significant change was that Basilio’s mock suicide was transferred from the third act to the second act and happened before the Windmill scene and the Dream scene, rather than after. A new fifth act was added with new characters, the Duke and Duchess and it was in their castle that the final act took place, not the tavern from the 1869 production. The ending was also changed; the 1869 production ended with Don Quixote returning home after losing a duel with the Knight of the Silver Moon, promising to not fight again for another year. The 1871 revival ended with an epilogue in which Don Quixote and Sancho Panza set again on their adventures. The Saint Petersburg première of Petipa’s Don Quixote took place on the 21st November [O.S. 9th November] 1871. The ballet was a huge success and led to a long collaboration between Petipa and Minkus that would last until 1886. However, it was Alexander Gorsky’s 1902 revival of Petipa’s Don Quixote that would serve as the basis for all modern productions.

Eugenia Sokolova as Kitri
Eugenia Sokolova as Kitri

Gorsky originally staged his version for the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, with the first performance taking place on the 19th December [O.S. 7th December] 1900. This revival modified Petipa’s scenario to three acts and six scenes and Minkus’s score was trimmed and supplemented with new music by the composer, Anton Simon. In 1902, the Director of the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatres, Col. Vladimir Telyakovsky invited Gorsky to mount his revival of Don Quixote for the Imperial Mariinsky Ballet. More changes were made, including the addition of a new variation composed by Riccardo Drigo for Matilda Kschessinskaya, who performed the dual role of Kitri/Dulcinea. Gorsky’s revival shocked the Saint Petersburg balletomanes with its realistic crowd scenes and décor and they stated that the revival was a mutilation of Petipa’s original masterpiece by one of his former students. Petipa, himself, was outraged by the production and when he attended a dress rehearsal, he was so furious with the changes Gorsky had made to his beloved ballet that he shouted out loud: “Will someone tell that young man that I am not yet dead?!”

Lithograph of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza on campaign; engraving by Karl Weyermann after a drawing by Ivan Agapi (1872)
Lithograph of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza on campaign; engraving by Karl Weyermann after a drawing by Ivan Agapi (1872)

Following its Saint Petersburg première, Gorsky’s revival of Don Quixote did not last long in the Imperial Ballet repertoire, but, nevertheless, it was not forgotten and eventually reappeared in Saint Petersburg throughout the 1910s, eventually finding a permanent place in the repertoire. The ballet lived on in Russia well after the 1917 revolution, with Minkus’s score going through a galaxy of alterations along the way. In 1923, Soviet choreographer, Fyodor Lopukhov staged a new version for the former Imperial Ballet in Leningrad that included a new “Fandango” by Eduard Nápravník. Rostislav Zakharov staged a new version of Don Quixote for the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow in 1940, which included new music by Vassily Soloviev-Sedoy. These additions eventually found their way into the Leningrad production. Pyotr Gusev staged another version of Don Quixote at the Kirov Theatre in 1946, with the original libretto modified by Yuri Slonimsky, new dances by Nina Anisimova for the tavern scene and décor restored from the original 1902 designs prepared for Gorsky’s Saint Petersburg staging. This production is still danced today by the Mariinsky Ballet. Don Quixote was first introduced to the West by Anna Pavlova in 1924 when she danced in a two-act abridgement of Gorsky’s revival at the Royal Opera House in London.

Today, Don Quixote is presented in various productions by different companies all over the world. What is danced today is very different from both of Petipa’s stagings. One huge difference between Petipa’s Don Quixote and the productions that are danced today is that Petipa’s scenario focused primarily on Don Quixote, the titular character and was somewhat faithful to certain episodes from Cervantes’s novel. Today, however, the main focus of the scenario has been shifted onto Kitri and Basilio, with their wedding pas de deux being the ballet’s main highlight. However, in accordance with Petipa’s scenario, Kitri and Basilio are meant to be supporting characters and are only supposed appear in at least three scenes, which is primarily due to the fact that they appear in only one chapter in the novel.

Vera Trefilova as the Street Dancer (ca. 1900)
Vera Trefilova as the Street Dancer (ca. 1900)


Did you know?

  • According to early Soviet historians, the Grand Pas des toreadors is originally from Zoraya, the Moorish Girl in Spain. It is widely believed that Gorsky transferred this piece into Don Quixote, but this theory is up for debate. Interestingly, the Grand Pas des toreadors is part of the 1882 published edition of the full-length score, meaning it was already in Don Quixote by the time Gorsky revived the ballet. Therefore, it is possible that either Petipa interpolated it from Zoraya, the Moorish Girl in Spain into Don Quixote or Minkus originally composed the piece for Don Quixote to begin with.
  • According to the Kirov Prima Ballerina, Ninel Kurgapkina, a scene from the original 1869 production, in which Don Quixote fights a giant spider (shown in the drawing below) was retained until the 1930s.
  • Only one passage from Don Quixote was notated and is part of the Sergeyev Collection; it is the Variation of Kitri from the Grand Pas de deux as performed by Vera Trefilova.
Don Quixote fights the giant spider (1869)
Don Quixote fights the giant spider (1869)


The Dream

The Dream scene is one of the most famous scenes in the ballet, in which Don Quixote, after being knocked out unconscious from attacking the windmills, dreams he is in the enchanted garden of his beloved Dulcinea. This is perhaps one of the prime examples of what Gorsky changed in his 1902 revival and his changes have been retained in modern productions. What is danced today as The Dream scene is very far derived from what Petipa staged in both his original production and his finalised revival. In Petipa’s staging, The Dream scene began with Don Quixote, dressed in shining armour, fighting various monsters, including the giant spider. After he successfully slew the beasts, the spider’s web disappeared, revealing the garden of Dulcinea. Don Quixote was brought before Dulcinea, who was accompanied by beautiful dryads. After a series of dancing, he knelt before her and everything vanished.

It was Gorsky who added the three famous variations to The Dream that are still danced today, none of which were composed by Minkus:

  • Variation of the Queen of the Dryads – this variation was composed by Anton Simon for Gorsky’s 1900 revival, as it was Gorsky who created the character. This variation is sometimes used as an alternative for the female variation in the so-called Le Corsaire Pas de deux.
  • Variation of Amour – this variation was composed by the composer Barmin for Varvara Nikitina for her performance in Paquita circa. 1885. This is why this variation is traditionally danced today in the Paquita Grand Pas Classique. For his 1902 revival, Gorsky interpolated this variation into Don Quixote as Amour’s variation, where it has since been retained in modern productions.
  • Variation of Dulcinea – this is a supplementary variation that was composed by Riccardo Drigo for Elena Cornalba’s performance in The Vestal in 1888. It was later added to Don Quixote by Gorsky as a variation for Matilda Kschessinskaya’s performance as Kitri/Dulcinea in his 1902 revival.
Lithograph of The Dream scene; engraving by Karl Wyermann after a drawing by Ivan Agapi (1872)

Lithograph of The Dream scene; engraving by Karl Wyermann after a drawing by Ivan Agapi (1872)


Variation of Kitri “L’éventails”

The famous so-called “fan” variation of Kitri in the Grand Pas de deux has quite a mysterious history. Out of all the ballet scores that still exist today, the music score for Don Quixote has one of the most complicated histories. Almost from the beginning, the score has been published in very negligent editions, further adding to the confusion of many historians. For many years, it has been widely believed that the “fan” variation, entitled “L’éventails“, was composed by Riccardo Drigo for Matilda Kschessinskaya’s performance as Kitri in Gorsky’s 1902 revival, just as he composed the famous Variation of Dulcinea for Kschessinskaya. However, that is not the case after all.

The music for this variation contains uncanny similarities to a harp variation composed by Minkus for La Nuit et le Jour that was created for the celebratory gala of the coronation of Tsar Alexander III. The harp variation in question is the Variation of the Queen of Day, so it seems that was in fact Minkus who composed the “fan” variation, but he did not compose it for Don Quixote. According to Yuri Burlaka, this variation is from Roxana, the Beauty of Montenegro.

How this variation ended up in Don Quixote is uncertain, but it is possible that Kschessinskaya interpolated it from Roxana, maybe at the suggestion of her teacher Ekaterina Vazem, who created the role of the Queen of the Day in Nuit et Jour. Kschessinskaya was the first ballerina to dance this variation in the Don Quixote Grand Pas de deux (also known as the “Wedding Pas de deux“) and it has remained in there ever since as the traditional variation for Kitri.

Ekaterina Geltser as Kitri (1900s)
Ekaterina Geltser as Kitri (1900s)


  • Petipa, Marius, Russian Ballet Master: The Memoirs of Marius Petipa. Translated ed. by Helen Whittaker, introduction and edited by Lillian Moore. London, UK: Dance Books Ltd (1958)
  • Kant, Marion/Various (2007) The Cambridge Companion to Ballet. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press
  • Kschessinskaya, Matilda, H.S.H. The Princess Romanovsky-Krassinsky (1960) Dancing in Petersburg: the Memoirs of Mathilde Kschessinskaya. Alton, Hampshire: Dance Books Ltd
  • Letellier, Robert Ignatius (2008) The Ballets of Ludwig Minkus. Cambridge Scholars Publishing
  • Pritchard, Jane with Hamilton, Caroline (2012) Anna Pavlova: Twentieth-Century Ballerina. London, UK: Booth-Clibborn Editions
  • Scholl, Tim (1994) From Petipa to Balanchine: Classical Revival and the Modernization of Ballet. Abingdon, Oxfordshire, UK: Routledge
  • Wiley, Roland John (2007) A Century of Russian Ballet. Alton, Hampshire, UK: Dance Books Ltd