Don Quixote Returns to S.F. Ballet in Style

Janice Berman on January 28, 2019
Jim Sohm plays the title man in Tomasson/Possokhov’s Don Quixote | Credit: Erik Tomasson/San Francisco Ballet

If you’ve missed seeing the full-length, bells-and-whistles-and-castanets classic Don Quixote, set to Ludwig Minkus, you’re in luck. If you’ve deliberately avoided it, please reconsider. And if you watched the company’s world premiere by Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson and choreographer in residence Yuri Possokhov in 2003, it’s time to catch it again. You’ll leave both tickled and awed.

With meticulous casting, additional choreography and preparation, SFB’s Don Q has morphed from a solid but slightly snoozy entity — the 1869 Ludwig Minkus creation having been adapted in 1900 by Alexander Gorski, and thence carried from the Bolshoi everywhere — into an unequivocal delight, further enhanced by Martin West’s leadership of the ballet’s orchestra.

Opening the 2019 season Friday night, it starred principal dancers Mathilde Froustey as a spicy and precise Kitri and the mighty Angelo Greco as her beau, the boyish Basilio. With gorgeous scenery and costumes by Martin Pakledinaz, a huge cast, its three acts running nearly three hours, it’s a showpiece made far more so by the superb work of the corps de ballet.

Alexandre Cagnat as Gamache (left) and Mathilde Froustey as Kitri (right) | Credit: Erik Tomasson/San Francisco Ballet

The supporting cast is filled with rising young dancers and veteran San Francisco Ballet alums like Jim Sohm as the Don himself, Pascal Molat as a delightful Sancho Panza, and Val Caniparoli as Kitri’s papa, who rails against his daughter’s choice of suitor. And then, oh then – Alexandre Cagnat as the fop to end all fops, Gamache, Kitri’s feckless, would-be wooer. Cagnat is a young Frenchman from the corps de ballet turned ineffably floppy, lace-festooned French poodle. How lovely it is to watch him stumble around with perfect timing and readily slipping shoulder-length wig.

So he’s rising, but he’s playing old. Also rising, but playing young, were soloists Daniel Deivison-Oliveira as a sensual, muscular Espada opposite Jennifer Stahl’s precise and slightly steamy Mercedes. For real steam, you needed look no farther than the windmill-accented Spanish countryside of Act 2, where the gypsies or Gitanos camped, led by soloists Hansuke Yamamoto, strong and focused, and a dervish-like Kimberly Marie Olivier as his jealous partner.

Norika Matsuyama is a sparkling lead Cupid | Credit: Erik Tomasson/San Francisco Ballet

Pakledinaz’s sets all are glorious, but the surprise knockout remains the one for the ice-blue/green vision scene, that staple of romantic ballet, which I had almost forgotten about until it was upon us. The goings-on are graced by dear Little Cupids in pink from the San Francisco Ballet School; the corps as Driads dancing in perfect unison, their queen Koto Ishihara, and a dimply, sparkling lead Cupid, Norika Matsuyama.

Mathilde Froustey | Credit: Erik Tomasson/San Francisco Ballet

Here Don Quixote, in a waking dream, sees his Dulcinea, the perfect ideal of a ballerina. Let’s just acknowledge that at this point there’s nothing Froustey cannot do. She moves from spitfire in the first act, where she and Greco swap tours de force and collaborate in daredevil partnership, leaping, turning, hopping, flying as the crowd goes wild, to regal yet empathetic ruler of the fantasy world and back again, turning, as she has said, into a mature woman, altar-bound.

Which brings us back to the town square, a grand corps finale with fandango and the traditional pas de deux. Worries that Greco might have overextended himself in his pyrotechnic-filled first act proved baseless, or maybe Basil-less. In bridal-white tutu, Froustey’s Kitri, too, looked fresh and new, adding an extra layer of radiance to a carpet of endless fouettés, lively leaps, and happy swoops into her husband’s embrace.

With varied casting, Don Quixote continues at the War Memorial Opera House through Feb. 3.