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San Francisco Ballet's new production of "Don Quixote" is a tremendous show with choreography by Alexander Gorsky and Marius Petipa, with staging and additional choreography by Helgi Tomasson and Yuri Possokhov. The sets and costumes of Jens Jacob Worsaae put it squarely in the Spain of mid-17th to 18th century. It captures the essence of that Spain through the sensibilities of a Russian as surely as George Bizet captures it through the eyes of a Frenchman in his opera, "Carmen." The music is by Ludwig Minkus.

The ballet opens with Don Quixote reading in his study. He sits behind his big desk with a high panel of windows behind him. He falls asleep and Sancho Panza comes running in after stealing a ham and hides under the desk. Women follow him in, but the Don awakens and chases them off. He then makes Sancho his Squire as he lifts his sword and brings it down to tap the terrified, cowering Panza. They stride off on an adventure.

This ballet is as much Spanish folk dance as classical ballet, and Act 1 opens with a lively ensemble, in brightly colored costumes in a set of old Barcelona. It's very effective. Kitri makes as grand an entrance as any I've seen. You will look at her and love every second of it. She's on fire with a lot of high kicks and flourishes, and all the guys want her. She's in love with Basilio, and when he comes over to her she turns her back. When he goes to flirt with someone else, she slaps him, then turns her back as he comes courting again. They do a sensuous pas de deux before her father Lorenzo separates the lovers, but not the love.

Lorenzo intends to marry her to the nobleman Gamache, but she wants no part of it. This character is dressed in gaudy pink and lavender ruffles and she is dragged kicking to him before she rips off his wig. He's a complete buffoon, sort of like a medieval Howard Stern. There's a great ensemble number with about thirty dancers giving way to the street dancer with six toreadors waving their capes in a scintillating number. They stick their knives into the stage and she dances around and through them. She flirts with another guy, Espada flirts with another girl, she goes over and slaps him on the shoulder, and he sweeps her up in his arms.

Don Quixote and Sancho enter on a big horse and donkey, respectively, real ones. The Don cuts an odd figure. He's a commanding and serene presence, but somewhat ridiculous at the same time. Sancho, on the other hand, is base and lewd, but good-natured as the women blindfold him and dance him around the stage. The Company then tosses him in a blanket as Don Quixote lurches around with his spear, and all flee. Kitri does a stunning solo with a lot of smooth kicks, fast turns, and staccato footwork on point. Yuan Yuan Tan's movements are to the max everywhere, with full extension, clockwork precision, and she never slows down or seems to tire. She makes everything look so easy, but that ease adds greatly to the power of her expression. Basilio lifts her with one arm fully extended, high over his head in this scene of supreme strength, beauty, and grace. "Don Quixote" has a lot of flash, flourishes, and pizzazz, with folk dance through a classical prism.

Act 2 has a backdrop of the windmills. There's an amazing gypsy dance as the leader leans about 30 degrees to the side, then back the other way. He leaps, kicks front and back, then back on his feet leaning from side to side again. The Gypsy Queen does a sizzling solo as she kicks, leaps, and spins, slides down to the floor, turns in slow, sensuous rhythm, then back up, picks up speed and flies around the stage. Tomasson and Possokhov add an adagio for a Kitri/Basilio pas de deux with a guitar. It's slower, but still with that Spanish rhythm as she falls back in his arms. Don Quixote returns on his horse. There's a wagon off to the side and a puppet show is revealed with two students of the San Francisco Ballet School as marionettes. They're in love and show it. The Puppet Master pulls the boy away replaces him with another. The girl makes sweeping arm motions to push him away, and suddenly the Don discovers that Kitri and Basilio are in love, and determines to help them. Lightning fills the sky and Don Quixote lurches around and attacks the windmills, as we see him get swept up on one of the blades.

Battered and bruised, Don Quixote awakes in a dream. He's surrounded by beautiful women in tutus. This is the first really classical ballet of the evening, and does it stand out. They move around him shimmering on point. Queen Muriel spins fast and smooth. The ensemble move in groups in circles, around each other in sparkling precision. The Driads are like perfectly cut diamonds as they stand in beautiful contrast to everything else.

It's back to the tavern, much like Lilas Pastia's in "Carmen." Kitri throws herself backwards for some distance into Basilio's arms and he catches her about shoulder high. He does some powerful spins, and Katita Waldo's Mercedes does a lively Seguidilla, complete with a table, before Lorenzo and Gamache enter. Basilio stabs himself, or at least fakes it, in a melodramatic scene worthy of the most theatrical "Butterfly." As soon as Lorenzo gives permission for Kitri to marry her dying lover, his hand shoots up and grabs her breast as laughter ripples through the house. He jumps up to the general celebration in this tongue in cheek theatrical tour de force.

Act 3 is the general celebration of the Wedding. Don Quixote moves like the Tin Man, but with the grace of a dancer, and never misses a beat. There's nothing sappy about him, and he projects a great reverence for women. The classical entertainments are exquisite. At one time there are two rows of four women each moving backwards while a soloist moves forward between them. This sort of thing is Helgi Tomasson at his best. The Kitri/Basilio Pas de Deux is spectacular. Yuan Yuan Tan is as good as it gets and she's partnered exquisitely by Vadim Solomakha. He's simply on fire in this. This is a dance of triumph, as their love has won out. He lifts her high over his head then brings her all the way down. He does some amazing flying inside twists across the stage, then pirouettes back. Kitri snaps her fan, then does rapid spins, kicks, and turns as she moves on point across the stage and back. General rejoicing concludes this tremendous new production of "Don Quixote" at The San Francisco Ballet. The season continues through May 13.

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