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San Francisco Ballet - 'Don Quixote'

by Mary Ellen Hunt

February 5, 2004 -- War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco

Practically the first question I heard as I entered the Opera House on Thursday evening was "How was it?? How WAS it??"

It seems many more people than could attend were interested in the debuts of LeBlanc and Nedviguine, which, rumor has it, was unfortunately a one-off.

It would be a pity if true, because they make a terrific couple. As gala observers might have guessed, the two of them compliment each other beautifully, with Nedviguine offering solid support for LeBlanc, and LeBlanc melting his sometimes icy persona.

For a first go at this lengthy ballet, they seem to have worked a great deal on the comic timing so integral to the first act. Technique is never a problem for either of them, although a couple of small bobbles here and there indicated to me that they felt the pressure. Nevertheless, being two pros, they came through when it mattered most, not just with tricks and razzmatazz, but with some carefully chosen touches and -- that favorite word of music critics -- rubato.

I've decided that I like that word for Tina LeBlanc. When I first saw it in a review, I had never heard this musical term applied to dance before, but it encapsulates a kind of phrasing of a note (or step) in which one stretches and holds the moment a little longer than is strictly musical in order to create an effect of tension and release and it really applies here.

Watching LeBlanc in the purely classical Dream sequence was like a lesson in rubato. She takes space with the grandeur usually reserved for longer dancers, and her every releve was accompanied by delicate and assured arms that seemed to stretch on forever.

Although I like Elizabeth Miner in the role of Cupid very much, her variation often looks as if she were pulled by the music, rather than as if she were pushing the music. LeBlanc, by contrast, works at the leading edge, ahead of the music and you wind up with the constant impression of aplomb.

In general, she is not as aggressive as Lorena Feijoo in the same role, but then she doesn't need to be. In the grand pas de deux, everything was conducted with the utmost elegance and measured attack, right down to the way she placed her hand in his, and their luscious glissades terre a terre. After nailing her solo, LeBlanc dropped her fan right at the end of her variation, but it seemed to make her all the more determined to finish her coda (her fouettes included sixteen counts of slowly changing her spot so as to take in the entire corps de ballet) which she polished off, even though the fatigue must surely have been catching up with her.

The ballet, which I remember as being LONG last year, proceeded apace, making me think that they may have tightened up the action a little. And there was the usual slew of good work from supporting characters. Moises Martin was was perhaps a little more dreamy and not as gangly a Don Quixote as Kirill Zaretskiy was on Tuesday, while Pablo Piantino did a good job of fleshing out the comic relief character of Sancho Panza.

Different from the opening night (in which Muriel Maffre performed both the Street Dance and Mercedes -- as it is in most productions where the street dancer IS Mercedes) on Wednesday night the Street Dancer was a saucy Julie Diana in the first act, with a somewhat unsteady Elana Altman taking over as Mercedes in Acts 2 and 3. Altman had some nice moments in the solo in the tavern, although I have to note that Ruben Martin, as Espada, completely missed his cue to help her onto the table to dance, so the poor woman had to hoist herself three and a half feet up in order to be on time to do her little swishing skirt bit. It’s a tough row to hoe, however, that tavern bit, because anyone who’s not Muriel Maffre…well…just isn’t Muriel Maffre.

Sarah Van Patten, in my opinion, still lacks the experience to do even soloist roles roles I've seen her in so far. Her Gypsy woman had none of the smoulder of Sherri LeBlanc, although it did have more of the skirt swishing, which looked suspiciously like Mercedes (another role she performs in this ballet).

The gypsy king, always a bit of a mystery to me, was nimbly danced by Hansuke Yamamoto on Wednesday. He performed cleanly, and did the best he could with perplexing mimes such as, "What? Your father? Coming here? Wait… I have an idea… Run away!!"

Katita Waldo, as the Queen of the Driads, was cool, calm, and collected, although her variation wasn’t quite as expansive as I’ve seen her. And playing the fop Gamache was a very funny Peter Brandenhoff to round things out.

Edited by Lori Ibay

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