Sexy satire in ‘Don Juan’ ballet at Lyceum Theatre
If you go
■ What:‘Don Juan’
■ When:8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 21; 2:30 p.m. Sun. Feb. 23
■ Where:Lyceum Theatre, 79 Horton Plaza, downtown San Diego
■ Box Office:(619) 544-1000
By Kris EitlandA seductive Valentine mood lingers at the Lyceum Theatre with two performances of San Diego Ballet’s irresistible “Don Juan.” Set to lively guitar concertos by Joaquin Rodrigo, the three-act ballet opens with three women eager to seduce their humble servant, Don Juan.
One by one, they slink out of their chairs for a turn with the handsome guy in tight skinny jeans and pointy boots.
“It’s definitely good for adult date night and couples without their kids,” said Maxim Tchernychev, the former Bolshoi Ballet dancer and admired teacher who stars as the legendary lover and scoundrel.
Things heat up when the nobleman is away and leaves Don Juan in charge. The mistress wraps her long legs around him like a hungry spider. The nobleman’s daughter balances precariously atop a chair to get his attention. The servant girl, danced by the sultry Stephanie Maiorano, becomes his most ardent stalker.
“I’m not changing anything from last year,” Tchernychev said. “I’m 43 years old and I’m just being myself. I’m not a cad. I think we bring more fun into it, and more nuances between the mother, daughter and dad.”
If you saw the show last year, you know your heart skips a beat when the nobleman-husband (Matt Carney) discovers their escapades. After a lively aerobic scuffle, Don Juan tosses the daughter back into the arms of her father and escapes. He then encounters gypsies, harem girls, geishas and sea nymphs who can’t resist his charm, which is real. Lean and blond, he’s been called the Russian Steve McQueen.
“It’s a curse,” he said with a slight grin and irresistible Russian accent. He’s kidding, of course. Choreographer Javier Velasco created the seductive role just for him. “I had the Don Juan idea for a long time,” Velasco said, “and when Max came to the company and school four years ago, I wanted to have more for him than standing behind someone.”
Tchernychev is a respected teacher known for using the Vaganova method of training. In performance, dance aficionados enjoy his masculine style and smooth partnering. He garnered positive attention as Don Juan last year and was praised for his mature presence and cool confidence.
The year before, he danced the role of Romeo in San Diego Ballet’s “Romeo and Juliet,” at the age of 40. Few would sign up for that, but he’s grounded in ballet technique.
From the age of 10, he attended a ballet academy in his native Russia. He spent five years as a member of the Bolshoi Ballet. He’s danced principal roles in major ballets such as “Swan Lake,” “Giselle” and “The Nutcracker.” In recent years, he focused on teaching, as founder of the San Diego Academy of Ballet.
Founded in 1989 by Velasco and co-director Robin Sherertz-Morgan, San Diego Ballet is a small company that traditionally does a Valentine’s Day weekend show. “Romeo and Juliet” was the go-to show for several years.
“When Max came to the company I realized he was willing to have fun,” said Velasco. “He brought a masculine thing to partnering. He was very good as Romeo. And women really enjoy seeing a man like him on stage. So I had to come up with something for Max, a more colorful character.”
Velasco needed a skeleton
plot. He researched stories of Casanova and listened to operas. The Don Juan story has been translated into ballets before, but he didn’t like the narratives.
“There’s one about two guys who like to gamble,” Velasco said. “One ends ups making a wager that he’ll seduce a nun! So that was out. And there were statues in cemeteries coming to life. But then I stumbled onto the Lord Byron poem.”
Byron’s epic 16-canto poem suggests that Don Juan is not searching for love, but enjoys it just the same. “Byron’s poem is unfinished,” Velasco said, “and it’s satirical, which I like. Don Juan isn’t a man who seduces women. He’s a man who women are attracted to, that’s his nature. He’s enjoying it, and we just enjoy it with him. Younger people will like the action, but this is a mature piece. A lot of the deeper meaning will appeal to an adult audience.”
Viewers who saw the show last year will remember that Tchernychev doesn’t wear tights in the production. Instead, he wears tight black jeans. “He’s that guy,” Velasco said. “He can get away with it. He’s the cool guy whose pants are a little too tight.”
Kris Eitland is a dance writer and co-founder of the online arts forum