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Good taste, sans passion

San Francisco Ballet dances 'Don Quixote' proficiently but with little heat.

October 09, 2003|Lewis Segal | Times Staff Writer

Proficiency without passion, the endless recycling of an atrophied heritage but no semblance of creative vision: These are the hallmarks of an art form on the ropes, and they're so much a part of the new San Francisco Ballet "Don Quixote" that you might consider the whole project a stopgap until the next big thing comes along.

Restaged by artistic director Helgi Tomasson and principal dancer Yuri Possokhov in sets and costumes from a 20-year-old Danish production, this exercise in hand-me-down aesthetics opened the Music Center's first self-produced dance season Tuesday in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

Good taste prevailed, plus a feathery delicacy in the dancing evident from Mayo Sugano's first jump onstage early in Act 1 as one of the heroine's nameless friends through the elegant -- but not notably joyous -- full-company finale.

But most of the new Tomasson-Possokhov choreography for this 1869 comedy ballet proved something of a mess, and the dream scene looked out of whack spatially.

The biggest problem, though, was that nobody appeared to care very deeply about retelling this story or re-dancing these steps.

At times, it seemed that Tomasson wanted his company to perform "Don Quixote" in the style of "Sleeping Beauty," replacing all the intensity that 19th century ballet audiences adored in Spanish and Gypsy dancing with an aristocratic reserve.

Technique? No problem, especially when Lorena Feijoo in the ballerina role whipped through double fouettes or Sara Van Patten as Mercedes took balletic backbends into the realm of contortionism. Sometimes Joan Boada as Basilio, the male lead, threw himself off balance or out of position in his pursuit of virtuosity, but the company's performance remained so under wraps expressively that even his recklessness became welcome.

Boada partnered Feijoo conscientiously and went through his flirtation rituals on cue, while Feijoo added interpretive complexities to her dancing that ultimately went nowhere. Ruben Martin danced Espada respectably but without the charisma and flair that Peter Brandenhoff brought to the lead Gypsy's solo passages. Katita Waldo, however, lacked the temperament for a Gypsy showpiece that Russian companies have long made into a scenery-chewing extravaganza.

In more classical challenges, Julie Diana skimmed through a line of daggers in Act I with the lyrical purity of Princess Aurora, Muriel Maffre exuded authority as the Dryad Queen and Elizabeth Miner added her own refinement as an uncommonly large but effervescent Cupid.

Among the mime roles, Damian Smith got the most from his bad-shoe gags as Gamache, but Kirill Zaretskiy (Quixote), Pascal Molat (Sancho), Ashley Wheater (Lorenzo) and the rest tended to get lost in the recesses of Jens Jacob Worsaae's sets.

The most recent Bolshoi Ballet "Don Quixote," on this same stage, may have been inferior in its decisions about what to cut and what to retain from the sprawling Marius Petipa and Alexander Gorsky source material. But it released the spirit of the company -- and nothing of the sort happened Tuesday.

Admirable in pieces, unexciting as a whole, the production left the dancers and audience going through the motions of a ballet event without the engine or impetus that makes the best classical dancing indispensable, unforgettable, soul-enhancing.


San Francisco Ballet

Where: Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, L.A. Music Center, 135 N. Grand Ave., downtown L.A.

When: Mixed bill: tonight and Friday, 8 p.m. "Don Quixote": Saturday, 2 and 8 p.m; Sunday, 2 p.m.

Price: $25-$85

Contact: (213) 972-0711

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