SF Ballet’s ‘Don Quixote’ is bright, playful time for all audiences

Illustration of a ballet dancer in the San Francisco Ballet's production of "Don Quixote"
Aishwarya Jayadeep/Senior Staff

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Based on the famous Spanish novel by Miguel de Cervantes, San Francisco Ballet’s “Don Quixote” reinterpreted the grand adventure story to focus on a few short episodes from the book’s second half — and that’s all the company needed to tell a great story. The War Memorial Opera House teemed with talent and passion, sparkling as an awe-inspiring environment. With a cast of characters filled with charm and personality, plenty of humor and stunningly impressive dancing, SF Ballet’s “Don Quixote” was ready to dazzle audiences of all ages.

Taking place circa 1550 in La Mancha, Spain, “Don Quixote” follows its titular protagonist, the lesser nobleman Don Quixote, who longs for adventure like that of the chivalric romance novels he reads. After having a dream where he stars as a romantic hero, Don Quixote is convinced the tales he reads are true. He recruits a peasant, Sancho Panza, as his squire, and the two set off to find adventure throughout the land. Soon, they encounter a young woman, Kitri, who runs off with a barber, Basilio, despite being betrothed to the nobleman Gamache. While Don Quixote initially tries to help Kitri’s father pursue the runaway lovers, he soon determines to help the young lovers stay together.

The story and characters of “Don Quixote” were lightheartedly comedic, juxtaposing high stakes with an assuring, playful tone that everything would turn out happily. Telling a story through movement and dance, “Don Quixote” demanded impeccable physical acting for the comedy to shine through; the skillful performers not only displayed incredible dancing but also showed off their commendable acting abilities. Don Quixote and his company were hilariously clumsy throughout, and Kitri and Basilio’s deception of this lovably awkward group was delightfully clever and humorous. The simple but captivating plot of “Don Quixote” creates a fun story that audiences can love just as much as the dancing.

Another outstanding feature of “Don Quixote” was the costumes — made with every color of the rainbow and adorned with layers and ruffles, the beautiful bright fabric easily grabbed attention. With these vivid costumes made to flow, fly and flounce across the stage, the ballet was a feast for the eyes. This bold and striking costume design made the performance glow with energy and positivity, contributing significantly to the bubbly tone of the ballet.

Further enhancing the performance was the orchestra, which provided brilliant music to perfectly complement the performers’ dancing. Playing a score composed by Ludwig Minkus, the music heightened tensions with ease and maintained it with passionate playing before a satisfying, slow release. The music and the choreography were immensely in tune with one another, each shaping the other to create a smooth, harmonious performance.

Of course, the dancing in “Don Quixote” triumphed as the ballet’s greatest glory. The cheery tone of “Don Quixote” was paired with seriously challenging choreography, which the dancers performed with bright smiles and no mistakes. It was impossible not to be amazed by the displays of world-class athleticism on stage; the dancers appeared to defy gravity with their unbelievable balance and high jumps, their motions appearing effortless and weightless. Kitri’s impossibly long series of double-fouettes — pirouettes performed with a quick whipping motion of the leg — was utterly jaw-dropping, and the ballet hardly gave enough time for audiences to pick theirs up again.

To watch the SF Ballet perform is to watch the product of years upon years of intense training. “Don Quixote” may not have had a complex plot, but its simplicity allowed for other evocative characteristics to shine through; the ballet radiated warmth, evoking laughter when it’s not evoking smiles. SF Ballet’s latest is particularly charming and inviting, sure to offer riveting entertainment for everyone.

Contact Joy Diamond at [email protected].