SF Ballet’s ‘Nutcracker’ a dazzling tradition

It wouldn’t be the holiday season in The City without San Francisco Ballet’s beloved “Nutcracker.”

It’s hard not to be dazzled by the glorious stagecraft, glittering costumes, gorgeous performers, cute kids and mellifluous music filling the War Memorial Opera House.

Conductor Martin West (in shirt-sleeves during the afternoon dress rehearsal before Wednesday’s 2017 opening night) and the unfaltering S.F. Ballet Orchestra have got Tchaikovsky’s famed score down.

After more than a decade, artistic director Helgi Tomasson’s 2004 production set in San Francisco in 1915 (the year of the Panama Pacific Exposition) shows no signs of flagging.

Ballet publicists say audiences seem to like the San Francisco-centric design (by Michael Yeargan), complete with historic period photos; architecturally pleasing Victorians; a living-room scene in which the Christmas tree magically “grows” to 30 feet tall and the fireplace to 22-feet by 19-feet (the size of two stacked cable cars) in a matter of minutes; and the 9-foot tall Faberge eggs through which Russian dancers jump.

This year, the Act 1 closing scene seemed to get to blizzard proportions, but that didn’t seem to faze the Queen and King of the Snow (the always joyous Frances Chung and Vitor Luiz) or the composed, synchronized corps members. It’s truly is amazing they don’t slip during the deluge. (The show — coated paper bits of paper that are recycled — is ordered from a supplier in Texas.)

Another fun aspect of “Nutcracker” is that the dancers get to rotate in the array of roles — some more technically demanding than others — and wear multiple, sumptuous, costumes designed by the late Martin Pakledinaz; there are more than 300.

Ruben Martin Cintas as Drosselmeyer and student dancers appear in San Francisco Ballet’s “Nutcracker” at the War Memorial Opera House on Dec. 13, 2017. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

As protagonist Clara, whose dream fuels much of the action, teen ballet student Olivia Callander charmed on opening day.

On opening night and during the dress, Rubén Martín Cintas donned the swirling cape as conjurer and nutcracker bearer Drosselmeyer;
Joseph Walsh and Max Cauthorn danced the Nutcracker Prince; Sasha De Sola and Ana Sophia Scheller were the Sugar Plum Fairy, and Maria Kochetkova and Julia Rowe paired with Walsh for the lovely final grand pas de deux.

Avid San Francisco Ballet fans may very well get the chance to see their favorite troupe members in featured roles; the changing casts are listed online at the company’s website.

San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker
Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: 2 and 7 p.m. daily, except no performances Mondays, and 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Dec. 24; closes Dec. 30
Tickets: $25 to $445
Contact: (415) 865-2000, www.sfballet.org

Leslie Katz

San Francisco Examiner’s arts and entertainment editor Leslie Katz has been assigning, editing and/or writing news stories about the Bay Area’s rich cultural scene since 1997. Reach her at (415) 359-2727 or lkatz@sfexaminer.com.

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Leslie Katz

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