Christensen's dramatic and opulent Don Juan is set to Joaquin Rodrigo's two works for guitar and orchestra, Concierto de Aranjuez and Fantasia para un Gentilhombre. The ballet is a brilliant collaboration between Christensen, designer Ming Cho Lee whose spectacular and historically accurate sets and Jose Varona whose lavish costumes combine to provide a visually stunning setting for the powerful and dramatic stage action.
For his Don Juan, Christensen returned to the original writings of the seventeenth century Spanish monk, Tirso de Molina whose play El Burlador de Sevilla spawned the legend of the dashing, daring, devil-may-care rogue who seduced every fair maiden in the land and captured the imagination of writers, poets and composers for centuries to come. Christensen first conceived of setting Don Juan as early as 1970 but felt he did not have a suitable male dancer for the title role. In the spring of 1973, Hungarian born dancer, Attila Ficzere appeared with San Francisco Ballet as a guest artist and Christensen immediately realized he had found someone with the flair, finesse, and hot-blooded passion required to bring the role to life.
Synopsis: Don Juan is set in a single act divided into four scenes. The opening scene is set in the palatial estate of the Commandant where a festive ball is taking place. The Don enters with his faithful companion Catalinon and mingles among the guests. His eye is caught by the Commandant's beautiful daughter, Dona Ana. They dance, but the Commandant knowing of Don Juan's infamous reputation orders them to stop. A quarrel ensues and the Commandant is fatally wounded. The Commandant's courtiers vow to avenge his death.
Scene two takes place in a convent. Don Juan and Catalinon disguise themselves as monks in order to evade their pursuers. The Don borrows a yellow cape from a village musician serenading a group dancers in the street. Brilliantly staged, a clever, fast-paced pantomime ensues as the courtiers pursue the bearer of the yellow cape throughout the convent. The fleeting action extends vertically over the set's four levels as the Don, pursued by the courtiers, visits his wild passion on the hearts and vows of the convent's cloistered nuns. Just as the courtiers are about to corner their prey Don Juan tosses the yellow cape back to the serenader who mistakenly becomes the fateful victim. Don Juan and Cantilon narrowly make their escape.
A peasant wedding is the setting for the third scene. Amidst courtly Spanish dances, the innocent bride catches the eye of Don Juan. Unknown to the groom, the Don lures her away. The courtiers, who have followed the Don's trail, come onto the scene and discover the illicit couple just as Don Juan slips away.
Don Juan meets his doom in the final scene. Set in the mysterious gloom before the tomb of the Commandant whom he killed in cold blood, the women he has wronged return to torment him. The macabre statue of the Commandant bids him to his tomb where, upon taking the Commandant's hand, Don Juan suffers his fate and descends into purgatory.
Don Juan received immediate nation-wide acclaim at its premier in June, 1973. Paul Hertlandy, writing in the Oakland Tribune, described Don Juan as "the most brilliant new story ballet conceived in San Francisco. With skill and speed, the scene transitions allow the drama to build in crescendo fashion with devastating effect... It is nothing short of brilliant."
Paul Emerson, writing in the Palo Alto Times praised Don Juan as achieving "a stellar balance of outstanding sets, costumes and choreography. An important addition to the dance repertoire and a prominent feather in the cap of San Francisco Ballet."
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