Don Quixote
Mathilde Froustey
© Erik Tomasson

Don Quixote

San Francisco Ballet

Alexander Gorsky and Marius Petipa, Choreographers, with additional staging and choreography by Helgi Tommason and Yuri Possokhov

Helgi Tomasson, Artistic Director

San Francisco War Memorial Opera House

San Francisco, Calif.

March 20-29, 2015

March 22, 2015

Heaps of froth rose to the top of San Francisco Ballet’s Mar. 22, 2015 matinee offering of “Don Quixote.” The cast stole its audience’s hearts right from the start, and huge dollops of credit are due some of the company’s finest character dancers: (in order of appearance) James Sofranko as Sancho Panza, Sarah Van Patten as Mercedes, Luke Ingham as Espada, Pascal Molat as Gypsy Leader, Kimberly Braylock as Gypsy Woman, and Clara Blanco as Cupid.

Out of the improbable Cervantes tale, these artists stirred up a brew of comedy, chivalry, conflict, exoticism, and magic, served with a flourish of pomp, in a sparkling “copa” of tricks and treats.

Heading the cast were Vanessa Zahorian as Kitri and Davit Karapetyan as Basilio. Zahorian, a bright light of a dancer, writes her first solo waltz as a love letter to the audience. Karapetyan, carrying a guitar, is the artful suitor, whose motives Lorenzo (Val Caniparoli), the Barber of Seville, views with distrust, as he has a different plan that would march his daughter Kitri to the altar with Gamache (Gaetano Amico), the fop in lavender plumage, who always gets it either wrong or over the top. Basilio serenades Kitri with strains of a gypsy-ish fado, and truly, what saucy maiden could resist Karapetyan, who is longer and leaner than ever! Kitri and Basilio toss fan and guitar, respectively, in favor of committing fully to each other and their lively pas de deux, with its punctilious footwork, where he is the torero and she is his—bull! No trope is too outré for this comic romp, and the only one not buying it is the reproachful paterfamilias, Lorenzo. Though on his high horse, he stoops to flirt with Kitri’s friends, danced with zip and zest by Norika Matsuyama and Julia Rowe, while Basilio takes timely advantage of the diversion to deepen his intimacies with Kitri. While Kitri responds warmly to Basilio’s probe, she simultaneously twerks her skirts at the pretender, Gamache, just to make her distaste for him unambiguously clear. In the melee that follows, Gamache’s feather-embellished sombrero flies off, exposing a balding and graying pate. Kitri inhales deeply, only to oxygenate and turn up the flame under her alliance with Basilio.

There is no better example of the impress of the Martin Pakledinaz designs than the Espada costumes that Luke Ingham wears. In his first appearance, his toreador colors are a canary yellow, offset by black and fuchsia insets. In his second duet with Mercedes, he is all in black, with glints of sequins lighting up the night. Van Patten’s two costumes, both blue, are equally stunning: the first is peacock, trimmed in purple, and the second, is powder blue. Each has a skirt layered in ruffles, but with a sufficiently acute drape to faithfully follow her sleek line. The two self-sufficient heat sources, Espada and Mercedes, all but emit wisps of smoke as they power through menacingly come-hither entreaties. Meanwhile, back at the love shack of pas de deux, shouts of bravo urge Karapetyan on in his elevator jumps and motorized turns, feats that require no urging whatsoever. Zahorian’s pirouettes, along a diagonal marshaled by orange and blue-clad picadors, add fuel to the fire.

In Act II, the lovers escape Lorenzo’s oversight by running off to a Gypsy camp. There they (and we) are treated to the most excellent specter of Pascal Molat at Gypsy Leader hitting all his targets with Roma-inspired gusto. Then, Kimberly Braylock invests her Gypsy Woman debut with the fireworks the role was authored to ignite, book-ended by backbend combrés that turn her inside out, a desultory gaze, and arms that extend into the far reaches of the night sky, with its planar harvest moon ensuring that just the right quotient of lunacy prevails.

Don Quixote’s substance abuse has laid him low, asleep just downstage of the Gypsy camp. Here he dreams a fantastical dream, brought to life by the exquisitely magical Clara Blanco as Cupid. In a sparkling sage-green tutu, a perfect complement to her “Poile de carotte” head of hair, she thrums through a solo, in which just a soupçon of a head turn is powerful enough to signal the chorus of Driads and Little Cupids to follow her lead. Every detail of her dancing is an exemplar of the company’s best style by its best dancers over the last quarter century, and here I am thinking of Joanna Berman, Tina LeBlanc, Evelyn Cisneros, Muriel Maffre and Elizabeth Loscavio, in the way that they transmitted sheer joy in the foreshadowing of a port de bras, as does Blanco when she first pets the air, or raises her head so that her green eyes catch a beam of light, not in a showboat manner, but with enquiring subtlety. Jennifer Stahl, as Queen of the Driads, joins her in confecting Quixote’s chaotic ruminations into a twinkling oasis of felicitous outcomes bordered by perfectly paced piqué turns.

From the sublime we return to the earthbound Taverna, where Espada and Mercedes reprise their torrid tropes, inspiring Basilio to try a trope of his own: faking his death for the benefit of Lorenzo, who has pursued the couple with Gamache in tow. The staging here is so complex that the elements of mime required to draw the humor out of Basilio’s gambit have to compete with a crowd of Tavern carousers, and it doesn’t read as clearly or cleanly as it could, despite best efforts of key players.

The Wedding in the Town Square is where we leave the couple. They have won Lorenzo over, and celebrate with the eponymous pas deux and variations that require maximum strength, endurance, hypsophilia, agility, concentration, stamina, and virtuosity—just when fatigue threatens like a rain cloud. That fatigue may have deprived the finale of some of its “ganas,” the dancers having put so much energy into the front end of this marathon of ballet feats, but it prevented no one from whistling Sevillana melodies while stepping off into the aisle after contributing their bravos and kudos to a well-deserved standing ovation.

Toba Singer, author of “Fernando Alonso, the Father of Cuban Ballet” (University Press of Florida 2013), and “First Position: a Century of Ballet Artists” (Praeger 2007), writes for international dance journals and websites, and has served as an advisor to the San Francisco Museum of Performance and Design. She was the University Press of Florida author representative at the 2013 Miami International Book Fair. “Fernando Alonso, the Father of Cuban Ballet” was nominated for the Latin American Student Association Bryce Award, the de la Torre Research and Dance Scholars Award, and the Commonwealth Club California Book Award.