“Don Quixote” at the SF Ballet

“Don Quixote” at SF Ballet

Carol Benet

The first of three full-length story ballets for the 2019 season of the San Francisco Ballet, “Don Quixote” has been a crowd pleasure since the middle of the 19th century.  It runs through February 3.

Taken from only a few episodes of the great world classic novel by Miguel de Cervantes, the original ballet was choreographed by Marius Petipa in 1869. It has been revised for this production by Helgi Thomasson, Artistic Director and Principal Choreographer of the SF Ballet.  Yuri Possokov also of the Ballet worked on the revised choreography by Alexander Gorsky’s version after the original by Marius Petipa.  The recent update was first seen here in 2003, repeated in 2015 and again this season as it is so popular.  Story ballets like this and the other two for the season “The Little Mermaid” and “The Sleeping Beauty” and certainly the yearly December “The Nutcracker” appeal to the general audience and bring in many spectators thus filling the coffers of the Ballet.


Ludwig Minkus’ music brings a Spanish flavor with guitars and tambourines to the SF Ballet’s excellent orchestra under the baton of Martin West.  Many of the dance steps  were borrowed from the ever popular Flamenco of the 19th century with the  “port de bras” movement becoming e a standard of classical ballet after “Don Quixote” was introduced.  The famed“Kitri jump”,  from the pas de deux in the fiery Act III when Basilio and Kitri dance, is an extraordinary kick that propels the dancer’s foot close to her head kicking the back leg high, a movement Kitri (“Dulcenea” as Quixote renamed her) performed here by the extraordinary French dancer Mathilde Froustey.

There are 152 roles and 40 children spanning two casts. Angelo Greco dances Kitri’s lover Basilio. A very fuddled and aged hero arrives on a real white horse and Sancho on a very long maned pony.  Jim Sohm is in the title role and Pascal Molat is Sancho Panza. Alexandre Cagnat performs as the fop Gamache, a nobleman that Kitri’s father Lorenzo (Val Caniparoli) wants for his son-in-law.  A graceful Mercedes is danced by Jennifer Stahl. The staged is filled with ensembles of men and women, corps de ballet members and dancers including 152 roles and 40 children spanning two casts.

Only a few scenes from the mammoth novel are part of the ballet.  The story of the ballet with only a few episodes from the novel seems like an excuse for an evening filled with fabulous dancing, ensembles of Spanish toreadors and Flamenco dancers, pastoral nomads, dryads and little cupids.  In the beginning of the Second Act at the gypsy encampment, Kimberly Marie Oliver dances as the  Gitana Woman to the famous and thrilling music.  Like this dance there are many important sections from Minkus’s score that have stayed in the ballet repertoire.  Act III portrays the splendid wedding of Kitri and Basilio with the entire cast celebrating in the Town Square.  Much like “The Nutcracker” with its bow to world culture and dance, ensembles and duos present many episodes that bring out explosions of applauds from the enthusiastic audience.

The colorful costumes and sets were designed by the Tony award winning Martin Pakledinaz,who sadly passed away just after 2012 revival. The costumes are lavish and colorful and with so many scenes they are a big part of the spectacle. James F. Ingalls designed the lighting, also a very important element in this brilliant show.

“Don Quixote” is the most exciting production for all ages this season. It continues through February 3 matinee.  Several performances have pre-talks.  Tickets sfballet.org or 415 865 2000.

About the Author

Carol BenetCarol Benet received her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of California, Berkeley, where she won an Outstanding Teaching Award. She also received a B.A. in English and an M.A. in French Language and Literature from the University of Michigan. Her teaching assignments have been at UC Berkeley, UC Berkeley Extension, Dominican University and Washington State University. Currently she holds literature discussion groups in Marin County and San Francisco and is a critic of the arts for The Ark Newspaper and a contributor to ARTSSF.com and ForAllEvents.com.View all posts by Carol Benet →