Mention “Don Quixote” to the average person and they will likely describe the famous hero at the core of Cervantes’ novel, a befuddled, would-be crusading knight, attacking windmills with his jousting pole. Mention the name to a ballet person, however, and they will nod, smile, and say, “Ah, yes, Kitri and Basilio", or "That famous Grand Pas of Act III, that gets performed a lot.” On Friday night, San Francisco Ballet presented the ballet in its glorious, lighthearted entirety, the production a 2003 Tomasson/Possokhov restaging of the 1869 Petipa classic (itself restaged by Alexander Gorsky in 1900).

Mathilde Froustey as Kitri in <i>Don Quixote</i> © Erik Tomasson
Mathilde Froustey as Kitri in Don Quixote
© Erik Tomasson
In the ballet version, Don Quixote is peripheral to the story. Instead the focus is on the romance of Kitri (delightfully performed on opening night by Mathilde Froustey) and Basilo (the equally enjoyable Carlos Quenedit), the town barber. The pair is determined to stay together and outwit Kitri’s father and Gamache, the wealthy, foppish suitor Kitri’s father wants her to marry. Into the scene comes Don Quixote on his quest, who sees Kitri and thinks he’s seeing his idealized dream love, Dulcinea. Confusion, dancing and hilarity ensue. Kitri and Basilio escape father and foppish suitor, eliciting pursuit. It is this “quest” that makes the ballet, along with loads of dancing and quick scene changes. There’s a Gypsy encampment, a windmill, a dream landscape, live animals, a puppet show, deception, more dance, capitulation, a faked suicide, and a ridiculously happy ending ; and somehow, it all works.

Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson and choreographer-in-residence Yuri Possokhov have created a luscious, eye-pleasing production, aided by a 2012 commission for new costumes and sets, designed by the late Martin Pakledinaz (a frequent San Francisco Ballet collaborator, who died in 2012, lending a bittersweetness to the enjoyment of the vivid, Spain-inspired sets and costumes). This ballet moves quickly from scene to scene, with three changes in Act II alone, each a feast for the eyes. Lighting design by James F. Ingalls offered the perfect complement to it all.

As Kitri, Froustey was a saucy, enthusiastic delight, with her clean leaps and neat footwork, amusing the audience with articulated bourrés showing reluctance as her father prodded her toward the unlikable Gamache (played with gusto by Rubén Martín Cintas). Her smile remained unaffected and sunny through the ballet, in spite of the challenges of the numerous jumps, pirouettes, flourishes, balances and fouettés in the choreography. Cuban-born and trained Quenedit shone as well, playful and convincing as Basilio, offering a night of strong partnering, powerful leaps, and pirouettes tossed off cleanly. Particularly impressive was watching him slow down from a multiple turn and finish, still in retiré position, as if defying the rules of physics. He succeeded in coaxing out the humor of his role without ever descending to farce. An adorably comic scene comes where Basilio pretends to kill himself, and as the crowd turns away, cringing, he uses the time to neatly spread out his cape and “die” in the proper, careful position.

Soloist Dores André and corps dancer Norika Matsuyama offered exemplary ensemble work as Kitri’s friends. Newcomer Matsuyama continues to prove she has soloist skills, and proves herself steady and consistent. The two dancers looked great together, and, best of all, looked like they were having a ball. 

Jim Sohm as Don Quixote offered an endearing interpretation, allowing us to see the strength of his convictions, the wistfulness within his heart, even as the rest of him was clumsy, sweetly deluded. In Act II, we are privy to his dream, a softer, tutu-ballet interlude amid the frantic gaiety and movement of the other scenes. Sofiiane Sylve, as Queen of the Driads, was beautiful and compelling. Sea green costumes for the ensemble fit the mood perfectly, as did a backdrop of the night sky, studded with stars. 

Pascal Molat was irresistible, sublimely comic as Sancho Panza, Don Quixote’s squire and sidekick. Other standout performances of the night include Sarah Van Patten as the spirited Mercedes, and partner Daniel Devision-Olivera as the bullfighter Espada. Gypsy leader Hansuke Yamamoto, too, danced with authority and aplomb.

San Francisco Ballet in <i>Don Quixote</i> © Erik Tomasson
San Francisco Ballet in Don Quixote
© Erik Tomasson
The ensemble dance numbers, of which there were many, were a visual feast, all vivid colors and textures. The male corps dancers showed strength and unison in the stylized Spanish toreador runs and poses, and made artful use of their colorful, whirling capes.

While Ludwig Minkus’ score lacks the gorgeous gravitas of his other composition, La Bayadère—no surprise, there—conductor and music director Martin West and the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra delivered a sweeping, energetic performance, memorable particularly for the way both orchestra and dancers were in synch for every final, closing flourish pose. 

There were a few opening night mishaps, here a fan dropped during ensemble work, there a wobbly landing from a tricky jump, but this detracted little from the overall sense of a successful, well-rehearsed effort on a production that delivers great dancing and great entertainment.