'Nut'-elicious from first bite to last

“Wow!” said 8-year-old Lorenzo Rodriguez, a first-time “Nutcracker” patron.

“Wow!” I said at my 31st San Francisco Ballet “Nutcracker”-season opener.

We weren’t responding to the paper-snow falling on us as we entered the jam-packed Opera House from Van Ness Avenue, although the dislocation was interesting. It was just a few degrees above freezing, and it took a minute to figure out that it wasn't the real stuff.

No, our responses came to Tuesday’s night’s performance, which started off “Nutcracker” season.

The classic impresses first-timers and retains a persistent grip on audiences, young and old.

Lorenzo’s “wow” came in response to the transformation of the Nutcracker doll into the Nutcracker Prince (Ruben Martin, in a splendid performance).

My “wows” were prompted by numerous things: for example, what might be the best Russian Dance I've ever seen, this one from the free-flying Pascal Molat, Daniel Delvison and Benjamin Stewart.

Also: Sofiane Sylve's Sugarplum Fairy, Sarah Van Patten and Pierre-Francois Vilanoba as Queen and King of the Snow, and, in the grand finale, Martin and Yuan Yuan Tan.

Returning from its off season, the ballet orchestra played merely well enough. Yet under Martin West's direction, it came into its own, spreading holiday music magic with the slow, quiet passages in the Arabian Dance and Waltzing Flowers.

The San Francisco company has offered the 1892 Ivanov-Petipa-Tchaikovsky “Nutcracker” since 1944, the first in the U.S. The current production features choreography by Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson for the sixth year.

Michael Yeargan's San Francisco-based sets in the first act are still charming.

Tomasson's low-key “it was all a dream” finale offers a fair exchange in dramatic validity for the previous production's spectacular “Peter Pan”-type final flying scene: It’s an “aww” ending, rather than an “ohh!”

A large number of very young ballet students are in the production. It’s an attractive feature that goes down well with the fellow age group in the audience – also with families of children on both sides of the footlights.

 
DANCE REVIEW  

Nutcracker

Presented by San Francisco Ballet

Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco

When: 7 p.m. daily, except no performances Dec. 14 and Dec. 25; plus 2 p.m. Fridays-Sundays and Dec. 21-23; and 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Dec. 24; closes Dec. 27

Tickets: $30 to $112

Contact: (415) 865-2000, www.sfballet.org

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