San Francisco Ballet
War Memorial Theater
San Francisco, CA
April 27, 2012
by Rita Felciano
Copyright © Rita Felciano 2012
Closing its current season with a new production by Martin Pakledinaz, Helgi Tomasson and Yuri Possokhov's 2003 beautifully danced "Don Quixote" cannot overcome its inherent problems for all but the most ardent balletomanes. But then the libretto of "Napoli," whose Blue Grotto act may have inspired Pakledinaz' aqueous dream ballet setting, stands on pretty wobbly legs as well. The problem with DQ, of course, is Ludwig Minkus' score whose brassy oompah-oompah beat will haunt your own dreams long after the curtain has come down on this evening of sugar and spice. 'Nuff said about what can't be helped, particularly, since the orchestra under Martin West, did such a magnificent job with inferior material.
The borrowed Royal Danish Ballet's pastel costumes had looked too pale. Pakledinaz took care of that. Ganache (Myles Thatcher who could have bee subtler and, therefore, funnier) wore layers of purple ribbons and a hat the size of a wagon wheel. The gypsy woman (speed demon Danielle Santos) tore through her accelerations in what might at one time have been a rainbow flag. The designer put the townspeople in shades from brown to gold, the women with shortish Flamenco-style skirts, the men in berets. The toreadors strutted in body skimming black, orange and aqua; the driads floated in delicate blue. The bridesmaids posed in pink tutus, the women at the wedding sported stunning black and white flounces that could have come from Jean-Paul Gautier. There was such an abundance of riches that you could only appreciate them guilt free if you didn't think about finances. (SFB maintains that shipping costs from and to Denmark made the expense necessary.)
But the new production may have inspired the spritely ensembles, none more exquisite than in the vision scene. Its severely geometric design reconfigured itself into different perspectives, opening a crucial pathway for the magisterially floating Sofiane Sylve as the Queen of the Driads. Clara Blanco was a perky, sharply dancing Cupid. (At this point in her career, Blanco, unfortunately, seems in danger of being typecast.)
Vanessa Zahorian's Kitri is not the fiery senorita of the Spanish stereotype but a smart, independent young woman who stands up to her fiancé as well has her father. With her sparkling footwork, bounding leaps and kicks to the head, she impresses us but we love her in her more tender moments -- in the gentle way she humors an old man or relaxes her backbends in Basilio's arms. Pristine yet scintillating and yet ever so delicate, she materializes into DQ's ideal woman. Joan Boada, stocky and a little stodgy, must have danced Basilio dozens of times, and it shows. He performs more than he inhabits the role. Yet, he is still a formidable porteur and has enough of the required boyish charm to make him a likeable partner for Zahorian. Tomasson's second act insertion of a lyrical, quasi Romeo and Juliet duet flows with longing stretches and yielding. It is a lovely private moment in a ballet which has few of them.
In the current DQ the street dancer and Mercedes are fused into one woman who also is Espada's lover. The choice tightens the libretto and relieves the captain from being the self-centered fop -- an athletic counterpart to Gamache -- that he often is. As danced by Sarah Van Patten and Pierre-François Vilanoba -- both of them with sly smile hinting at erotic secrets -- they can hardly keep their hands off each other.
The deepest humanity, however, comes from two other partners, the Don and his faithful servant. Jim Sohm's first attempt at the mythic knight spun a shimmering web of poetry. With his chin up and faraway focus, he seemed blind to reality; his flailing limbs willing to compete with any mere windmill. Pascal Molat's detailed, venial and yet fiercely protective Sancho threatened to take a spotlight even when he was just sitting on the sidelines, forlornly looking into an empty cup. These two outcasts were hanging on to each other, each surviving because of the other. I know that the children's game of "blind man's buff" has a tradition in ballet. I still found it difficult to watch.