San Francisco Ballet's Don Quixote a Masterful Production
On opening night of the 2019 repertory season, San Francisco Ballet did justice to the sumptuous spectacle of the classic ballet Don Quixote. It's all there: beautiful sets, elaborate costumes, courtyard ball, village festival, the iconic Quixotic windmill under a giant full moon, a puppet show, horses, comic action, and exciting, exquisite dancing.
As the strong-willed Kitri, Mathilde Froustey was playfully and joyfully expressive, whether flirting with her love Basilio, hiding from her father Lorenzo behind her fan, or wowing with effortless pirouettes and changes of positions. In feigning grief at Basilio's faked death, her comic skills were brilliant, pantomiming as if to say, "Oh dear, oh dear. I am beside myself with grief. Oh dear." Her graceful movements and joyful smile captured the audience's attention and heart.
Angelo Greco, as Kitri's love Basilio, executed difficult turns with power and precision, supporting but not upstaging his partner. Daniel Deivison-Oliveira, as Espada, with Jennifer Stahl's Mercedes performed an elegant and polished pas de deux, among other excellent performances.
There was no lack of outstanding performances. Kimberly Marie Olivier was sultry as the Gitana Woman in a sultry gypsy costume. The dancing of Jennifer Stahl, Isabella DeVivo, and Julia Rowe shone as Kitri's friends. Koto Ishihara, Queen of the Driads, and Norika Matsuyama, as Cupid, were dazzling as well as charming. The eponymous role of Don Quixote was played by Jim Sohm with endearing seriousness and buffonery. His comical and inept sidekick Sancho Panza was played by former principal dancer Pascal Molat, now on the faculty of the San Francisco Ballet School. The over-the-top elegant dandy Gamache was performed with comic brilliance by Alexandre Cagnat, whether losing his wig or fanning the fainted Don with his handerchief.
Don Quixote as a ballet bears little resemblance to the epic novel by Miguel de Cervantes. Choreographed originally by Marius Petipa and performed by the Bolshoi in 1869, different choreographers, including Balanchine, over the years have put their own spin on the production. The traditional Gorsky/Zakharov-choreographed version was first performed in the USA by the Boshoi in New York in 1966. In this month forty-eight years ago, Nurerev's version of Don Quixote was first performed in the United States by the Australian Ballet in San Francisco at the start of a 17-city tour.
The current San Francisco Ballet production, which debuted in 2012, is a grand achievement, boasting dazzling costumes and impressive scenery by the late Martin Pakledinaz. The only thing missing is a clear portrayal at the beginning of why Don Quixote sets out on his quest. Absent is the dream or vision sequence of some other productions that demonstrates his fixation on chivalry and the ideal woman.
Quibbles aside, this is a grand and magnificent production with outstanding dancers. The set changes require two intermissions, making this a longer-than-usual ballet. It is well worth it. San Francisco Ballet's Don Quixote runs from January 25 through February 2 at the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco.