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War Memorial Opera House
United States
San Francisco Bay Area
San Francisco, CA

Charm Pervades San Francisco Ballet's 75th Anniversary 'Nutcracker' Production

by Joanna G. Harris
December 13, 2019
War Memorial Opera House
301 Van Ness Avenue at Grove Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 861-5600
To celebrate this special event in the history of San Francisco Ballet, the company has gone all out to expand the production in decor, casting and pleasing events for the audience. Not only was there a special reception for former “Clara's” (women who have danced the leading child’s role over the years), but the finale of the evening of December 11 at War Memorial Opera House included red and white balloons floating down over the house! All of this made for a great sense of celebration.

There are many special roles in the Nutcracker since it is essential a story ballet. Foremost and most spectacularly performed is Uncle Drosselmeyer, seemingly a magician who can bring puppets to life. Tiit Helmets was brilliant in this opening night production. Not only was his mime clear and exact, but also his interaction with the children, with Clara, with the magic of the sets and his projection to the audience…all were brilliant. Through his magic he presents the ‘dancing dolls’; a Harlequin clown, a dancing doll and a soldier. These three, Max Cauthorn, Lauren Parrott and Hansuke Yamamoto executed some of the best dance-mime of the evening. (The three recall the characters in Petrouchka, a 1911 ballet by Fokine and Stravinsky). Ultimately, Drosselmeyer presents Clara with the Nutcracker doll. In her dream (and on stage) the Nutcracker doll will be transformed into the Nutcracker Prince.

After the strange but thrilling battle of the mice vs. soldiers, wherein Clara becomes a heroine by defeating the Mouse King, the puppet-soldier comes to life, transformed into a live dancer and a Prince. Luke Ingham performed the role with much charm. I missed some subtleties in his mime presentation of the battle. Also, it was the first time a mouse trap was dragged on stage. Usually, Clara defeats the Mouse King by throwing something at him. All of this dissolves into the Land of Snow. We are presented with a pas-de-deux by Yuan Yuan Tan and Carlo Di Lanno as King and Queen of the Snow, accompanied by a large corps of Snowflakes. All very nicely performed as snowflakes fell on the stage to end Act I. No one slipped on the stage snow.

Act II is a series of divertissements evoked by the Sugar Plum Fairy to entertain Clara and the Prince in their dream kingdom. Sasha De Sola as the Fairy brought forth the following entertainments: Spanish, Arabian, Chinese, French, Russian dance sequences, and final “Madame Du Cirque” and her Buffoons. Other productions in other years and places have called the lady with the enormous skirt “Mother Goose” and other characters. The special event is that children of the Ballet School dance with and for her and then vanish under her skirt. For parents, it is the hit event of the evening.

As the evening drew to a close, sixteen ballerinas danced the “Waltz of the Flowers”. Alas it was not exciting or lively as a finale event to this otherwise fine performance. The waltz seems to go on and on with little variation in choreographic design. As my guest remarked, “There’s just too much arm waving”. However, the Grand Pas de Duex” by Mathilde Froustey and Luke Ingham ended “Nutcracker” beautifully.

The special printed program details the story with amazing photographic detail and description. Martin West and the SF Ballet Orchestra, as always, are to be congratulated for the excellent accompaniment. Also kudos are deserved to Michael Yeargan, Scenic Design, Martin Pakledinaz, Costume Design, James F. Ingalls, Lighting Design and Wendall K. Harrington, Projection Design.

The production staff and all SF Ballet help are to be applauded for their work. Even as the audience left the Opera House, each was presented with Nutcracker wrapping paper to celebrate the Holidays. Bravo to all!

Photo © & courtesy of Erik Tomasson

Photo © & courtesy of Erik Tomasson

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