|SF Ballet‚Äôs Nutcracker is a holiday treat for all ages! Photo by Erik Tomasson.
Nutcracker, SF Ballet‚Äôs Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson‚Äôs 2004 reimagining of Tchaikovsky‚Äôs holiday ballet classic The Nutcracker, is a terpsichorean confection, a Christmas Valentine to the City of San Francisco (currently running). It is set in 1915 Edwardian San Francisco, ‚ÄúThe Jeweled City‚ÄĚ as one projected postcard says in the opening vintage slideshow, which helps anchor time/place. That was the year of the Pan-Pacific Exposition, when SF showed the world that the devastating quake of 1906 was only a set-back. The spirit, cultural diversity and magic of this City brought us back to vibrancy.
This production, for the most part, captures all of the magic and much of the transformation at the core of The Nutcracker as well as SF itself, borrowing from the region‚Äės rich cultural landscape and iconic imagery. All Bay Area residents can take delight and pride in the care and detail of this richly-concocted restaging. Michael Yeargan‚Äôs sets elicit Edwardian SF beautifully. Martin Pakledinaz‚Äôs costumes are a dreamy collection from real-world to other-worldly. And the lighting, designed by James K. Ingalls, beautifully highlights the magical holiday textures.
It‚Äôs all simply stunning from the snowstorm (the likes of which has never been seen in SF) to the astounding visual effects as Clara enters the world of her dreams. SF Ballet‚Äôs production whisked me to various stages of my youth, returning to the wonder and joy of the season, entranced by this sweet offering. And the basics of the original are still there: Drosselmeyer, Clara, the Nutcracker Prince, The Mouse King, the King and Queen of the Snow and the Sugarplum Fairy.
The male dancers fared better than the females, both in solo and groupings. Taras Domitro‚Äôs performs the Nutcracker Prince with flair and exquisite technique. His grand jetes are magical, as though suspended a moment longer than is physically possible. His fouette turns ‚ÄĒ even with the oversized Nutcracker head on ‚ÄĒ have velocity and precision. Astounding. Elise Gillum‚Äôs ability to convey the story as Clara is clear, distinct. Damian Smith has a physical presence that gives Drosselmeyer, from a kid‚Äôs-eye-view, the intrigue of a Santa or a magician, though a touch more spark to the intrigue of the character could make it perfection.
Artem Yachmennikov‚Äôs Snow King is a virtuosic display of musicality and technique. But pairing him with Yuan Yuan Tan (as the Snow Queen) wasn‚Äôt a great choice. It‚Äôs not the strongest choreography for her as she lacks the grounded, fiery discipline and sharpness. Fluidity and complex psychological roles suit her best (her The Little Mermaid was flawless). Gaetano Amico‚Äôs pizzazz and comic timing make his Mouse King quite memorable. Lorena Fejoo‚Äôs Sugar Plum Fairy is good but is a teaspoon-of-sugar short of fantastic (the sparkle necessary just doesn‚Äôt quite hit the mark). The International Dancers all make the most of their moments. And oddly, the Dancing Bear brings some of the most unexpected pleasure.
SF Ballet‚Äôs corps de ballet has difficulty moving as one entity during unison passages. There is no excuse for such a noticeable degree of variation.
Agreements should be made ‚ÄĒ and drilled into the dancers ‚ÄĒ by an outside pair of eyes and ears. The Ballet Masters/ Mistresses consistently fall short of eliciting precision. And with some of this choreography, the deviations glaringly show.
This cast (what seems like hundreds) brings such a holiday treat, one which kids of all ages can enjoy. This relatively new staging of The Nutcracker should be seen live at least once by all Bay Area residents. Nutcracker is the ultimate Christmas Valentine to share with those you love.
Nutcracker continues (various dates/times/casts) until Dec. 27 at War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco. Tickets ($25 to $125) at sfballet.org.