S.F. Ballet closes with triumphant ‘Don Quixote’ 

Full disclosure; "Don Quixote" is not a great favorite of mine. There is good reason for its final "Kitri’s Wedding" act to be performed alone most of the time.

The full ballet is not all that "special" — Minkus’ music is schmaltz, and there are all of about five minutes about El Caballero de la Triste Figura (Knight of the Sorrowful Countenance) in it, nothing faintly reminiscent of the great (if seldom read) Cervantes novel or even the syrupy "Man of La Mancha." The title character and his story are peripheral at best, and there is no other glue to hold the scenes together.

And yet, and yet: your man on the scene, the one with the full disclosure, had a wonderful time with all of "Don Quixote," the whole nine yards, at the San Francisco Ballet’s Sunday matinee.

Matinees are extra demanding from the dancers, especially if one — as was the case here — follows a Saturday premiere by a few hours. Maybe because of that, the Sunday matinee surged, pulsated, entertained and delighted, the whole company dancing "in the zone." This performance of the final program of the season turned out to be, unexpectedly, a memorable grand finale.

The four-year-old Helgi Tomasson/Yuri Possokhov reworking of the 1869 Gorsky/Petipa classic is holding up very well. Added to the few original story references (with Kirill Zaretskiy as the title character and James Sofranko as Sancho Panza), a real-live horse and an even livelier donkey were Jens-Jacob Worsaae’s thoroughly pretty sets and costumes, respectful re-creation of many classic parts, Tomasson’s lyric contributions and Possokhov’s energy.

That’s only the potential, in search of flawless, robust execution. Sunday afternoon, principals, soloists, the corps and the orchestra, under David LaMarche’s direction, playing heck out of the old Minkus score, made "Don Quixote" appear a much better piece than it usually is.

Molly Smolen and Tiit Helimets — the principal characters of Kitri and Basilio — added passion, elegance and a free spirit to their obvious technical-athletic abilities. Smolen gave her all from beginning to end, and there with a spectacularly elegant execution of those 32 fouettes (might have been more for all I know).

When her face reflects more the enjoyment of dancing that’s evident in her body language, Smolen will reach a high point in a fast-ascending career. Helimets too is rising fast, each appearance this season endearing him to the audience increasingly. His high one-hand press lifts were long, strong and secure.

The Gypsy scene was explosive, Garrett Anderson and Erin McNulty leading the charge. In the dream scene, Sarah Van Patten and Nicole Grand danced the solo roles. Katita Waldo’s Mercedes was a triumph. If the production used real bulls (along with the horse and donkey), those animals would have been both scared by the strength and attracted by the poise of Anderson and five fellow toreadors — Jaime Garcia Castilla, Rory Hohenstein, Chidozie Nzerem, Garen Scribner and Hansuke Yamamoto.

The Corps danced in an unflagging series of grand scenes, the entrance of various groups in Act 3 was especially memorable, close units of dancers moving "in profile," creating living paintings.

"Bravi!" all around.

San Francisco Ballet Program No. 8

Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. today, Thursday, Friday and Saturday; 7:30 p.m. Wednesday; 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Tickets: $10 to $205

Contact: (415) 865-2000 or www.sfballet.org

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