Ballet San Jose – Don Quixote – San Jose

Full stage shot of the courtyard in <I>Don Quixote</I>.<br />© Robert Shomler. (Click image for larger version)

Full stage shot of the courtyard in Don Quixote.
© Robert Shomler. (Click image for larger version)

Ballet San Jose
Don Quixote

San Jose, Center for the Performing Arts
16 February 2013, educational matinee
www.balletsj.org
sanjosetheaters.org

Despite my ho-hum attitude toward Don Quixote in general, largely due to the circusy  Minkus music, I decided that it might be worth seeing  the Ballet San Jose’s production mounted by Wes Chapman, former principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre and artistic director of the Alabama Ballet.  When I heard that  Amy Marie Briones, who had impressed me so much at the SJB Gala, was to dance Kitri, I couldn’t resist. Unfortunately the company did not announce guest artist José Manuel Carreño until two weeks before the run, by which time my schedule was already filled and I couldn’t make his performances.
 

Amy Marie Briones in <I>Don Quixote</I>.<br />© Chris Hardy. (Click image for larger version)

Amy Marie Briones in Don Quixote.
© Chris Hardy. (Click image for larger version)

As I’m sitting up close in the fifth row, I remind myself to keep everything in perspective.  I would be remiss in trying to compare this mid-sized regional company with larger companies for the reasons of dancers and budget.  On the other hand, for many years I preferred Oakland Ballet to San Francisco Ballet because the dancers didn’t hold back while trying to be perfect; they just gave their all, perfect fifth positions be damned.   Ultimately, ballet shouldn’t be judged solely on technical proficiency.  As the dance world grows more and more focused on athleticism and tricks, I look harder to find the artistry and unconditional joy in the movement.

The curtain rises on the prologue with Don Quixote (Maximo Califano) and Sancho Panza (Anton Pankevitch) about to set off on the hidalgo’s quest.  As if in a dream they encounter all the main characters of the story for brief introductions – Kitri (Amy Marie Briones), Basilio (Jeremy Kovitch), Gamache (Wes Chapman), Lorenzo (Anton Pankevitch) and Cupid (Maria Jacobs-Yu).  Then the first act opens on a bustling village plaza with everyone making their roles come alive.  If a bit lacking in precision of execution and maintenance of tidy lines, they more than make up for it with genuine enthusiasm.  When Briones makes her entrance as Kitri, the whole audience sits up expectantly.  Her vibrant presence commands your attention and  after a few steps it is clear that she is Kitri, not a dancer playing the role, but a complete embodiment of it.  She flirts, charms, pouts and protests without missing a beat, and it is abundantly clear why Basilio, Don Quixote and Gamache are in love with her.  And, just to top it off, she possesses an extremely prodigious technique that is always in service to creating the role and not shown off for its own sake. She has precise pirouettes, jumps of great élan, balances with ease and does it all with exceptional musicality.  I only wish she had a partner who could match her on every level.  Kovitch does a solid job, but could be more passionate and humourous.
 

Ballet San Jose in <I>Don Quixote</I>.<br />© Robert Shomler. (Click image for larger version)

Ballet San Jose in Don Quixote.
© Robert Shomler. (Click image for larger version)

Califano is a terrific Don Quixote, constantly in his own reverie until interrupted by reality, then totally gung-ho to be off in pursuit of his dream.  He somehow manages to retain some vestige of dignity even in the most ridiculous situations.  I admire Chapman’s Gamache played with knowing nuance, instead of the often seen over-the-top foppish and fussy buffoon.  All the subtlety, however, is probably lost to half the audience as they are sitting too far away to catch the intelligent shadings.  By magnifying his gestures and facial expressions without changing their meaning, he could easily convey his wonderful caricature.   Jacobs-Yu, in the role of Cupid, is utterly delightful.  Light and airy, darting and mischievous, her Puckish imp is the perfect contrast to a stage full of dryads.

Visually, despite the slightly limp tutus and general worn-out look of the Santo Loquasto costumes, courtesy of American Ballet Theatre, the sets by Hans Christian Molbech for the first and third acts work well.  Loquasto’s set for the gypsy camp in the second act is fine, but the one for the dream sequence seems to belong to another ballet entirely.
 

It was an Ballet San Jose eductional matinee and there were over 400 children in the audience. Parents and kids got free ballet workbooks to take home, free dance classes, storytime with a student from our ballet school reading the story of <I>Don Quixote</I>, and the chance to decorate fans to take home with them.<br />© Lee Kopp. (Click image for larger version)

It was an Ballet San Jose eductional matinee and there were over 400 children in the audience. Parents and kids got free ballet workbooks to take home, free dance classes, storytime with a student from our ballet school reading the story of Don Quixote, and the chance to decorate fans to take home with them.
© Lee Kopp. (Click image for larger version)

The good news is that I had a very pleasant afternoon, mostly the result of the dancers actually having a splendid time on stage. The family matinee attended by dozens and dozens of children gives me hope that there will be a future audience for ballet.   Possibly Don Quixote is an even better introduction to ballet than Nutcracker, as I am impressed also by their rapt attention and generally good behavior throughout the performance.
 

About author
Work for DanceTabs

Aimée Ts'ao, a San Francisco dance writer, has appeared in Dance Magazine, was dance critic for the Bay Area Reporter and was the senior ballet editor for the Dance Insider Online. She lets her previous incarnation as a professional dancer (ballet and modern) imbue her perspective and hopes you like the resulting flavour.
1 comment on this postSubmit yours
  1. I’m afraid that Anton Pankevitch was cast as Lorenzo, Kitri’s father. Juan Moreno, the small, superb Cuban-born dancer, was given the role of Sancho Panza, and
    it didn’t have a quarter of the possibilities Moreno could have brought to it.

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