San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker Runs Now Thru December 30

Last night the San Francisco Ballet debuted its annual performance of the beloved Christmas classic, The Nutcracker. The ballet holds a special place in San Francisco’s heart as it made its United States premiere here on Christmas Eve in 1944. The excitement of the holiday was thick in the air as a crowd of all ages took their seats in the War Memorial Opera House. The show was a spectacular one with flawless dancing by some of the company’s top principals.

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This version of The Nutcracker, the SF Ballet’s fifth variation, from artistic director Helgi Tomasson originally premiered in 2004 as an entirely new production. The show takes place in San Francisco in 1915 and starts with a slideshow of images from that time. Painted lady-style houses, based on real homes on the corner of Green and Gough Streets, are a part of the First Act’s set design by Michael Yeargan. The costumes in the party scene, by the late Martin Pakledinaz, are Victorian with subtle art deco and flapper influences. A 14-year old San Francisco Ballet School student, Olivia Callander, was superb as Clara—she was at times both childlike and eager to be a grown up.

The highlight of the First Act was the stunning snow scene with Frances Chung and Vitor Luiz as the Snow Queen and King. Both dancers were impeccable—light and graceful, with precise movements and unparalleled presence. That they are dancing as 150 pounds of snow falls from the stage’s ceiling makes it even more incredible to watch. During the intermission, the snow is swept up and filtered in a hand-cranked drum to remove debris (stray bobby pins, sequins, etc.), then it is reused in the next performance.

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The Second Act featured more immaculate dancing from the company’s top principals. Sasha de Sola’s Sugar Plum Fairy was regal, dainty, and sumptuous. Maria Kochetkova and Joseph Walsh’s grand pas de deux was perfect in every way, from technicality to stage presence. Another standout was the trio of magnificent jumpers, Esteban Hernandez, Blake Kessler, and Myles Thatcher, during the Russian dance.

The Nutcracker runs now through December 30 with performances Tuesday-Saturday at 2 and 7 p.m. and Sunday the 24th at 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Casting changes with each performance.

All images by ©Erik Tomasson.