San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson’sÂ Nutcracker.Â Â© Erik Tomasson
What more can I say about San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker without sounding like a broken record? Catching back-to-back performances last Tuesday at the San Francisco War Memorial House, I was once again swept up in the sumptuous fairytale of what I’m convinced is one of the best Nutcrackers in the world. The production bursts with sumptuous extravagance in the magnificent sets by Michael Yeargan and costumes by Martin Pakledinaz that speaks of an early 20th century nostalgia where even kids misbehaved in an orderly fashion. But San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker firmly plants itself in the present day with a contemporary edge in the crispness of the company’s dancing. Especially having viewed the PBS airing of this production mere days before I saw the performances live, I was struck how much more alive the production looked onstage than on the TV screen. The company seemed to have grown since its recording last year and gave particularly luminous performances.
The entire show seems to fly by like a dream. From the brisk lively overture conducted by Martin West, the children in the audience are enchanted by the first act with its strong narrative plot. But my personal favorite lies in the charms of the second act, where the company shines in Helgi Tomasson’s choreography that is custom made to show off the wonders of the San Francisco Ballet. I found the French section (danced by Ludmila Campos, Lily Rogers, and Jennifer Stahl) to be a choreographic high point, with a light flirtiness and contrasting deep plies on pointe to make it interesting. The famous Sugar Plum Fairy solo accompanied by the heavenly celeste (in this version, the solo in the Grand Pas de Deux) is a refreshingly original take on an over-choreographed variation that seamlessly incorporates the storyline of Clara’s joy in dancing with her Prince directly in the form of flitting, running steps across the stage in pointe. The audience-favorite Russian section danced by Benjamin Stewart, Christopher Mondoux, and Isaac Hernandez in the evening cast never fails to bring down the house with their energy and showmanship. These highlights overshadow the times when Tomasson’s choreography seems to fight the music (for instance, Clara yawns and falls asleep peacefully amidst dark, ominous music) or my annoyance at the missing gunshot in its appropriate place in the music that makes it appearance several bars later.
Frances Chung in Tomasson’sÂ Nutcracker.Â Â© Erik Tomasson
In comparing the matinee and evening casts, the evening cast was more experienced, yet the matinee cast brought to mind memorable new faces. Corps member Clara Blanco danced the Grand pas de deux with effervescence; her turns were breathtaking, as there is a nice completeness to her dancing, from her fingertips to her follow through out of each step to the next. Principal Nicolas Blanc was her warm and spirited Prince who filled his high flying jumps and extensions with a dash of (dare I say, tongue-in-cheek?) humor, especially when he acted out what happened in the battle with the mice. Rachel Viselli as the Sugar Plum Fairy displayed amazing control with her rock solid balances, yet I found her performance a tad flat, lacking in musicality and a forward-pushing energy. Newly-hired corps member IsaacÂ HernÃ¡ndezÂ was the lead in the Russian section in an eye-popping performance with unabashed bravura and drama, making a dazzling impression in his short time onstage and turning effortlessly as if he was on ice. He will definitely be one to watch this upcoming season. In the evening performance, Kristin Long made a welcoming Sugar Plum Fairy, her dancing expansive as the soloist in the Waltz of the Flowers. Nutnaree Pipit-Suksun was a sensual lead in Arabian, and Nicolas Blanc jumped to the skies in his dynamic rendition of Chinese. Maria Kochetkova reprised her role (from the PBS broadcast) in the Grand pas de deux with the joy of a girl dancing on the happiest day of her life in a thrilling demonstration of technical control and artistry, flitting on her toes across the stage as if on air. Gennadi Nedvigin was her refined and debonair partner. Brett Bauer and Elana Altman as the Snow King and Queen shared an effortless partnership that highlighted an ease to the role I hadn’t seen before. In both casts, Val Caniparoli as Uncle Drosselmeyer added humorous details to his role, such as wiping the eyes and blowing the nose of the Nutcracker after Fritz breaks it. Daniel Deivison was a delightfully bendy dancing doll, and Jessica Cohen was a youthful and vivacious Clara.
Vanessa Zahorian in Tomasson’sÂ Nutcracker.Â Â© Erik Tomasson
From the smallest ladybug to the most experienced dancer onstage, from the beautiful costumes to the breathtaking snowfall in the Snow Scene, every detail in San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker is in its carefully constructed place. The result is a sparkling production bound to be distilled in children’s memories to inspire another generation to dream, as it did for me when I was growing up.