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Don Quixote Impressions

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I'll start. :dry:

Don Quixote, Opening Night, 28 April 2007

I wasn't sure what to expect out of Vanessa Zahorian as Kitri, but she more than delivered in this performance. I don't think I've ever seen anyone turn as fast as she did. Her fouettes earned thunderous applause from the audience, and her jumps were well executed. I never thought of her as an actress, but she hammed it up nicely, even if she was relying a bit heavily on facial expressions rather than comic timing. Davit Karapetyan made his debut as Basilio in that performance as well. He was technically flawless, and even impressive, but his acting needs a bit of work.

I was expecting the world from Muriel Maffre's Mercedes, and maybe I shouldn't have been. Notwithstanding her amazingly flexible back, she seemed miscast in the role and didn't hold my attention the way she has in other ballets. That said, it was a fine performance; it's just that I've come to expect more from her. Nevertheless, she will be missed, as this was one of her last performances with SF Ballet. As Espada, Moises Martin was, again, technically perfect but dramatically a bit dull. I much preferred his brother Ruben in the same role the last time I saw Don Q.

The rest of the company was a mixed bag. Hansuke Yamamoto and Pauli Magierek burned up the stage as the gypsy couple, while Frances Chung and Dores Andre as Kitri's friends couldn't seem to get in sync with each other even though they both danced beautifully. Yuan Yuan Tan and Elizabeth Miner as the Driad Queen and Cupid, respectively, were both beautiful, while the corps was mostly together in the driad scene as well as the seguidilla and fandango.

Martin West conducted, and the tempi were much faster than what I was used to, especially during the Act 3 opening march. Fortunately, the dancers were able to keep up with it. I was disappointed that Tomasson cut the two bridesmaid variations, as I would have liked to see more of Andre and Chung's individual talents.

Overall, however, this was a rousing finale to a slightly lackluster season at SFB.

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I saw the May 2 performance with Molly Smolen as Kitri and Tiit Helimets as Basilio. Both were a bit off. Smolen, who I'd only seen briefly once this season, seemed to have trouble maintaining her center. She was off kilter frequently, and a bit shaky in the watch-me-balance-on-one-foot poses. She wasn't bad, though, and shows potential. She just didn't have much sparkle. And to be fair, Helimets was not an ideal partner for her. Some of those off-center turns could have been a matter of him not properly supporting her. One of his one-arm lifts was frighteningly precarious. I could almost hear her thinking, "Don't drop me! Don't drop me!" from behind her stiff smile. He's a good, solid dancer, for the most part, but has zero charisma on stage, and zero chemistry with Smolen.

I was much more impressed with Elena Altman and Moises Martin as Mercedes and Espada. There were a much more fiery pair and much more fun to watch. Unlike BalletNut, I did not find Martin dull. He was actually pretty cocky. It was as if he was going to show that pale Nordic Basilio how a true Spaniard moves. :P

Overall, though, I think this production should be put in mothballs. I've never been a huge fan of Don Quixote, and this production is less coherent than others. It often had the feeling of a cobbled-together mess. I won't miss it if they retire it. They can trot out the grand pas de deux as a flashy party piece now and then, but the whole production should be shelved. IMO, of course.

Oh, and I have to mention one terribly annoying thing about the performance for me. I'm a season ticket holder way down in front on the center aisle. In the 15 years I have sat in the same seat, I have never been so distracted by a conductor. David LeMarche was beyond annoying. Not only did he stand on a box or platform that made him taller than most conductors so that his head was smack in my line of sight, he also constantly bounced up and down like a rubber ball and waved his hands high above his head. He totally screwed up my view, causing me to miss a lot of what I usually see with ease. Someone should tell him to tone it down a notch.

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Overall, though, I think this production should be put in mothballs. I've never been a huge fan of Don Quixote, and this production is less coherent than others. It often had the feeling of a cobbled-together mess. I won't miss it if they retire it. They can trot out the grand pas de deux as a flashy party piece now and then, but the whole production should be shelved. IMO, of course.

Oh, Talespinner, I couldn't agree more. I don't think it will happen, though, because at every performance I've attended of the company's Don Q, admittedly as few as I could manage, the audience goes bananas.

I saw Smolen and Helimets together at last Saturday evening's highly dramatic performance, but wouldn't presume to judge them on a night when they were called in from offsite to come to the aid of the party. She does not strike me as a natural Kitri, however. I don't have any problem with Helimets' ethnic background (I think the whole you-gotta-be-Latin-to-do-it-right business has gotten completely out of hand) but he seems a little too sweet and bland for Basilio.

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Regarding Tiit and Molly, a company dancer I was briefly talking to remarked that the word was that they danced more lightly and spontaneously Saturday evening than they had in earlier performances. Also with a little less makeup, according to some of the sharp-eyed audience regulars (this was a topic of a discussion while waiting afterwards on the 47 Van Ness bus).

Gonzalo danced differently with Vanessa--perhaps it was the choreography of act three of Don Q. or perhaps she's more of a adagio dancer than Tina. Tina does all of the steps and dances with great brilliance and throws her leg behind her in a flash while Vanessa has more of an up and down, head-to-toe languorous style. ("Above all the others, Vanessa's my favorite," a 47 Van Ness rider said quietly but firmly to her friend, as if to lay to rest the subject.)

On Sunday Tiit and Muriel danced Agon a little soft edged, but they struck some beautiful and haunting images along the way. He was quite good earlier in the season in Divertimento #15 but couldn't save it. No one at SFB understood what that ballet is about; it had none of the wit and mysteriousness and slightly coarse exaggeration about it that it needs (Arlene Croce says it was famous for being badly produced for years by the NYCB).

The Muriel Maffre Farewell overall was wonderful. I'm not that fanatical about her as (most) others are, but there were lots of great examples of her art with leisurely interval/intermissions in between. She seems to stand straight, mostly in place, while, like an illuminated initial in an old manuscript, she slowly defines herself tendril by tendril.

About Gonzalo, what can you say? He brings/brought to everything at SFB a depth and focus it wouldn't quite have without him. In his entrance on a horn in Symphony in C, is he awakening us or are we awakening him? When he jumps, he seems to change the tempo and conditions of his turn mid air. He mischieviously pickpockets time, in little amounts, here and there.

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Overall, though, I think this production should be put in mothballs. I've never been a huge fan of Don Quixote, and this production is less coherent than others. It often had the feeling of a cobbled-together mess.

Thanks for that comment! I think DonQ itself is a good full length for SFB (its energy and characters/dancing required), but this particular version (Gorsky and Petipa plus Tomasson/Possokhov) can use a lot more "remodeling". The transitions aren't smooth, especially in Act 1, where we just move from one set of dancers to the next, often in a cut and paste style. and I don't want a master of ceremonies to fill the space either... just some choreography to accentuate the adjacent variations and allow the story to flow better. I like the pdd but the juxtoposition with the tone of gypsy woman's solo is perplexing in Act 2. I haven't seen enough different DQs, but is there a better version out there that would suit SFB?

I have issues with this DQ production obviously, but SFB's showcase of the classics is so limited as it is, and I'm not sure if larger scale ballets like Le Corsaire or La Bayadere are possible, which is why I keep going back to see their DQ. I also prefer the traditional choreography for the Act 3 pdd, but I am a viewer that goes nuts at the end of a good show -- as was my case with the main couples in the past like Lorena Feijoo/Joan Boada and Tina LeBlanc/Gennadi Nedvigin -- which is why they keep bringing it back :speechless-smiley-003: Sorry for the tangent; I'll post my comments from DQ 2007 once I ward off reviewer's fatigue...

Quiggin - such an eloquent and nice comment for Gonzalo :)

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Tikititatata (love your name, it sounds like a Kathak rhythm), I sympathize. It's reasonable for anybody to find that Don Q is some form of shaggy mess but sometimes you love it anyway. Different folks will object to different bits -- but it's been re-worked over and over and OVER so much, it tends to pull apart anyway, and it depends on how well the bit is done as to whether I like it that night.

But I'm curious: You said "I also prefer the traditional choreography for the Act 3 pdd." What do you mean by that? Do you mean the Bolshoi's version, without the pas de chevals? Or what? Iwish I knew WHAT could be considered THE traditional wedding pas de deux.

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What do you mean by that? Do you mean the Bolshoi's version, without the pas de chevals? Or what? Iwish I knew WHAT could be considered THE traditional wedding pas de deux.

uh... good call; better for me to say "common in my experience." The beginning of SFB's wedding pdd is the first I've seen danced that way so I thought all others I've seen are traditional. Maybe I've only seen the typical format performed as a gala piece by other companies. I'm used to the [tombee pas de bourrée][pas de chat][pirouette] repeated twice more where SFB cuts it; then the [développé lift][front attitude][soussous][step up en dehors] repeated with chaînés where SFB has an across the floor side by side grand jeté... which doesn't excite me. Also, it's interesting that Vanessa and Tina (I think) go into the lift prior to the fish dive with their backs to the audience... hmmmm.

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to add a little more...

Kitri & Basilio

Wow... what a season. I was envisioning this program of DonQ to have possibly two additional couples, so it amazed me that in the end, 3 couples danced 9 shows. I really admire how the dancers shifted and filled in where necessary. :) I saw the opening nights of each couple, so they may have developed more with their second and third+ shows.

Casting-wise, I thought Vanessa Zahorian and Davit Karapetyan were a good pair and technically compatible. There's a lot of room for their character development and I didn't really feel the energy or the chemistry -- in fact I felt just as nervous! Molly Smolen was technically more "on" (I felt Vanessa forced a lot of things/turns on 4/28), but her partnership with Tiit Helimets wasn't perfect either. Molly and Tiit have a different sense of musicality which shows in the minor details department (where Vanessa and Davit were very together musically). I was excited to see this real-life couple on stage, and while the overall energy was better on Sunday (4/29), I found that all four principals danced independently in their own spotlights.

As I had felt in the past, there is something really genuine in the partnership that's developed when Tina LeBlanc and Gonzalo Garcia share the stage (5/1). They had great chemistry, acting, and comical timing. Their partnership was truly beautiful--they really SHARED the spotlight, which I liked. I also appreciated the fact that they had worked out some technical partnering glitches on their second show (5/3). Back when Gonzalo and Tina danced Giselle (2005?), there was a general consensus on how Gonzalo portrayed this puppy-love smitten Albrecht. Perhaps this DQ role suited him better and maturity may have factored in, but I found that an additional dimension that was lacking in Gonzalo's Albrecht surfaced in his Basilio. The pretend suicide was possibly the best, quite humorous as I had remembered Baryshnikov's to be (on tape). Their acting was very natural (as was the makeup; GG's was lighter than in the past, it seemed) and I loved every artistic touch they made. I really wish someone would correct Gonzalo's arms (elbow to fingertip), b/c I think his classical dancing would look better. Otherwise they were basically perfect :) I'll miss their partnership...

Queen of Driads: YuanYuan Tan was more or less technically solid in this role, but I felt as if I were witnessing a Prix de Lausanne moment or similar. She executed the variation well and offered minimal context... Her dancing is so beautiful that I want more from her! I was surprised that Muriel Maffre wasn't casted for this role. This variation is not very exciting though since it looks like Lilac Fairy + 6 italian fouettés + Myrtha, after the conventional développé a la seconde beginning... :)

Cupids: SFB students as Little Cupids were probably the most together of the dancers in the Dream Scene. I want to root for Patricia Perez since her Cupid was sort of close to what I like. I think she shows a lot of promise and would grow with the right corrections. I like her style among the corps.

Kitri's friends: Frances Chung and Courtney Wright (different performances/casts) both looked great!! Really love their dancing and artistry. Frances and Dores Andre had some nice moments though like BalletNut said, they were not always together...

Great job by

: Katita Waldo as Mercedez was a hit for me. She really rocked this role, though I don't see why this couple has to appear in all three acts... the designated music is usually fun though.

: James Sofranko as Sancho Panza was super! Nice choice of casting and great acting by James.

: Damian Smith's Gamache was hysterical. I love that he didn't over do it. Sometimes you might miss a hand gesture or two, but if you looked over, he was in character throughout the entire 2.5 hours. It was brilliant.

: Garret Anderson as the Gypsy lead. I'm not a big fan of this scene, but when they dance it like they mean it, you can't help but watch with conviction. I liked his acting. and he was sympathetic to the gypsy woman... it was nice.

: There is little classical ballet required for the non-leads in this production, but when you actually spot a few classical sequences, like the random tidbits of Toreadors, you really do appreciate the fact that dancers like Jaime Garcia Castilla go all out and perform them clean. His training is immaculate.

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Thank you Tikititatata -- wonderful, in fact. You could SET this ballet.

I wish I'd seen as many performances as you did. I believe you about Katita, I've heard it from lots of people, even some not-Katita fans, that she REALLY makes that part make sense.

And I agree, Jaime Garcia Castillo is amazing, the levels of intelligence, imagination, style, and taste he brings to the stage. He is answerable.

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