S.F. Ballet’s smashing ‘Don Quxote’ lives up to history 

click to enlarge San Francisco Ballet’s Program 5 – with Mathilde Froustey as Kitri and Jim Sohm in the title role on opening night – is a thoroughly entertaining production of the  classic “Don Quixote.” - COURTESY ERIK TOMASSON
  • San Francisco Ballet’s Program 5 – with Mathilde Froustey as Kitri and Jim Sohm in the title role on opening night – is a thoroughly entertaining production of the classic “Don Quixote.”
The old warhorse has wings: On Saturday afternoon, San Francisco Ballet's "Don Quixote" soared in a wondrously entertaining Program 5 show.

The revival of Helgi Tomasson and Yuri Possokhov’s 2012 staging of the 1869 Imperial Theater choreography by Marius Petipa (later combined with Alexander Gorsky’s 1900 setting) showed no signs of age, as the story is timeless: Cervantes created his masterpiece about the "knight of woeful countenance" between 1605 and 1615, and the first ballet on the subject was performed in 1740.

Yet centuries later, everything seemed new and fresh Saturday at the War Memorial Opera House. The story-setting first act, often long-winded, unfolded seamlessly.

Frances Chung and Taras Domitro as lovers Kitri and Basilio were at the front and center of the huge cast (resplendent in Martin Pakledinaz's lavish costumes).

Chung was on fire, with genuine charm, flawless technique, beautiful line, lightning speed and weightless grace – all in one seamless performance. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to come up with new accolades for her performances, particularly in long and demanding roles such as this one, which stretches from comedy to passion to elegance (in the third act, "Kitri's Wedding”).

Domitro, with athletic bravura and artistry, partnered Chung impressively.

They were impeccably backed by the combined forces of 33 ballet school students (including Level 1’s Little Cupids and Flower Girls), the entire ballet corps (with special performers), soloists and company veterans in character roles.

Jim Sohm was eminently believable as Don Quixote; James Sofranko was Sancho Panza; Val Caniparoli, the Innkeeper; Ricardo Bustamante, Lorenzo; and Myles Thatcher, Gamache.

While Act 2’s three scenes didn’t have the fluency of the first act, notable solo turns brightened it: Daniel Deivison-Oliveira and Ellen Rose Hummel in the gypsy camp, Jennifer Stahl and Julia Rowe in Don Quixote's dream, and principals in the taverna scene made time fly.

After a second intermission in the 2 1/2-hour show, Kitri's Wedding was a 20-minute bravura blur.

Ming Luke conducted the orchestra in a properly boisterous rendition of Ludwig Minkus' marvelously apt circus music (written a century before Leroy Anderson's similar classical pop).

Other performers added a special treat: Johnny Appleseed, Sancho Panza's donkey, and Don Quixote's gorgeous white steed, Nugget, did everything but danced.


Don Quixote

Presented by San Francisco Ballet

Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. March 24 and March 26, 7:30 p.m. March 25, 2 and 8 p.m. March 28, 2 p.m. March 29

Tickets: $20 (standing room) to $345

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

About The Author

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben is a writer and columnist for SF Classical Voice; he has worked as writer and editor with the NY Herald-Tribune, TIME Inc., UPI, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, San Jose Mercury News, Post Newspaper Group, and wrote documentation for various technology companies.
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