A live horse onstage usually steals the show. So does a donkey. But San Francisco Ballet's “Don Quixote” is so entertaining from start to finish, concertgoers Saturday almost overlooked a joint appearance by the animals.
In Program 8, the last of the season, the War Memorial Opera House audience didn’t ooh and ahh the four-legged performers. Instead it was dazzled by amazing and amusing virtuoso dancing, beautiful classic ballet, commedia dell'arte, romance, gorgeous costumes by Martin Pakledinaz and a terrific large cast, including super-cute ballet school kids.
There even was a reference now and then to Cervantes’ “Don Quijote de la Mancha.”
Company artistic director Helgi Tomasson's production – with Yuri Possokhov’s assistance – breathes life into the 1869 Gorsky-Petipa classic that so often lies inert between the “big numbers.”
While the third act often receives more attention than the whole work, this production illustrates the how enjoyable the entire piece can be.
The ballet has marshaled grand forces for this spectacle. Attractive principals Vanessa Zahorian and Joan Boada received rave notices as Kitri and Basilio at Friday’s opening.
Saturday’s performance with Maria Kochetkova and Taras Domitro was thrilling. Domitro – athletic, musical, fearless and a considerate if not especially attentive partner – moved impressively on the ground and in the air.
Kochetkova's weightless, effortless excellence prevailed. Still, while her superb, Moscow-trained technique and investment in all aspects of the role showed, she could have displayed more warmth and emotion.
Upcoming in the lead roles: Frances Chung dancing Kitri, and Boada, Domitro, Vitor Luiz, Davit Karapetyan and Gennadi Nedvigin alternating as Basilio.
In the huge cast – I counted 50 before giving up – many stood out Saturday night: Sasha DeSola and Dana Genshaft among Kitri's friends, Sofiane Sylve as the sultry Mercedes and Vito Mazzeo as Espada.
Garen Scribner and Courtney Elizabeth sizzled as the gypsies, and Sarah Van Patten as Queen of the Driads led forces that included Dores André, Koto Ishihara, Elizabeth Powell, Wan Ting Zhao and more.
The orchestra, directed by David Briskin, had fun with Ludwig Minkus' 19th-century pop, which varied between under the big top sounds and Tchaikovsky lite. Minkus, the Austrian composer whose lilting works defined ballet for imperial St. Petersburg, made music that is pure fun.
“Don Quixote” is the perfect summation to a fabulous season and company.
Presented by San Francisco Ballet
Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. May 1 and May 3-4; 7:30 p.m. May 2; 2 and 8 p.m. May 5; 2 p.m. May 6
Tickets: $20 to $285
Contact: (415) 865-2000, www.sfballet.org