San Diego Ballet is best known for family traditions and romantic tragedies, such as “The Nutcracker” and “Romeo Juliet.” To embrace a broader Valentine’s Day crowd, choreographer Javier Velasco created a new ballet with an irresistible title, especially if you’re a man with a pulse.
In San Diego Ballet’s debut of “Don Juan” last weekend at the Lyceum, audiences followed the escapades of the legendary lover and scoundrel immortalized in Spanish folklore, plays, and Mozart’s opera, “Don Giovanni.” Maxim Tchernychev, a former Bolshoi dancer, portrayed a relaxed and confident Don, often outshining Velasco’s ballet phrases yet exuding mature charisma.
Set to lively guitar concertos by Joaquin Rodrigo, the three-act ballet opened with three women eager to seduce their humble servant, Don. One by one, they slinked out of their chairs for a turn with the handsome guy in tight skinny jeans and pointy boots.
The Mistress (Rachel Sebastian) wrapped her long legs around him like a hungry spider. The young daughter (Arielle Meads) balanced atop a chair, aching to get his attention. The servant girl (Stephanie Maiorano) was especially sultry, but wham, the man of the house (Matt Carney) burst in. The fight scene had five scrambling without a trace of pantomime. In a flash, Don tossed the daughter back to papa and got the heck out of there.
In short order, Don found himself frolicking with nympho fruit venders, gypsies, harem girls, geishas, and sea nymphs. Through it all, Ms. Maiorano was his most amorous stalker. At 42, Tchernychev, is an unlikely lead, but his beautiful partnering with Ms. Maiorano was the winning formula in the ballet. In one duet, he lifted her with amazing ease with one hand, slowly bringing her back to the ground for a passionate series of poses.
Velasco created the ballet with Tchernychev in mind, and he took inspiration from Byron’s poem, which depicts a more humorous character. In this ballet, a Russian portrayed a romantic and caring Spaniard. If he could speak, one would expect him to sound like the most interesting man in those beer commercials. You know – the one who has a puma for a pet. And don’t forget that hilarious commercial for Hai Karate aftershave from the 60s, where crazed women chased an average guy.
Other Don Juan ballets favor courtly weaves, cabrioles, and flashy costuming. Velasco mixed up folk dance rhythms and familiar ballet forms. Leila Garner was a standout in Don’s Vision in Act Two. The seasoned dancer with gorgeous arms and musicality has returned to the company after a break. Zoe Marinello-Kohn was also memorable for her dance in the gypsy camp with Matt Carney.
Those expecting quivering swans and snow, or rich fabrics and fancy sets last weekend, were left scratching their heads. Spare sets can be compelling, but it seemed Velasco couldn’t make up his mind about the setting or era. The only backdrop was a banner on the back wall with the hand painted words “Obedience to nature is the only virture.”
Tchernychev was sleek and modern like a rock star with lean legs poured into black skinny jeans. More than a few times it seemed he had traveled back in time, or was it that he was just so hip? Perhaps another staging could purge the old garb and plop the whole handsome troupe somewhere unexpected.