From left, Mingxuan Wang, Jim Sohm and Kristi DeCaminada (as the grandparents) and Lauren Parrott -- along with San Francisco Ballet School students -- appeared opening night Dec. 12 of San Francisco Ballet’s 2018 “Nutcracker.” (Courtesy Erik Tomasson)

SF Ballet’s 2018 ‘Nutcracker’ underway with good cheer

In Wednesday’s opening of San Francisco Ballet’s 74th year of “Nutcracker” — the 14th production of artistic director Helgi Tomasson’s 2004 version — dashing Aaron Robison danced the role of the Nutcracker Prince, partnering with lovely Sasha De Sola in the finale’s grand pas de deux.

They looked great, and they’re slated to come back, but not before most of the company’s principal dancers and soloists also put their feet into the showy roles.

The changing cast throughout the 31-performance run in the War Memorial Opera House is among the fun aspects of America’s oldest “Nutcracker.”

Some things haven’t changed through the years: Tchaikovsky’s magnificent score (Ming Luke conducted the impeccable orchestra opening night); Michael Yeargan’s eye-catching Act 1 set (with a 30-foot tall Christmas tree and grand staircase in the Stalhbaum family’s home); and Wendall K. Harrington’s nostalgic projections depicting San Francisco in 1915.

The late Martin Pakledinaz’s costumes dazzle, from the pink tutu of a dancing ballerina (Lauren Parrott) and clown-faced jack-in-the-box (Mingxuan Wang) dolls to the corps’ frilly white snowflake dresses and themed apparel on Spanish, Arabian, Chinese, French and Russian dancers.

Under Madame Du Cirque’s huge skirt are plentiful buffoons (young ballet students) dressed in black-and-white polka dotted outfits.

The not-quite-comprehensible plot (based on an 1816 story by German writer E.T.A. Hoffmann) also remains the same: Toy-maker and magician Drosselmeyer (Val Caniparoli) brings to the Stalhbaum’s holiday party a nutcracker, which turns into a prince in daughter Clara’s (Kyla Lisette Paez Marcus) vivid dreams.

She imagines: a battle between mice and toy soldiers; a veritable blizzard (Mathilde Froustey and Carlo Di Lanno were Queen and King of the Snow), a commanding Sugar Plum Fairy (Sofiane Sylve) leading the prancing waltz of orange and yellow flowers; a parade of international dancers; and finally, herself as a twirling princess.

Clara’s reveries and reveling were not lost on the many youngsters in the audience clearly enjoying holiday festivities in the War Memorial. For much of Wednesday’s show, a little girl seated in Row I made her way into the aisle, where she stood and waved to the dancing snowflakes and Sugar Plum Fairy.

REVIEW
San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker
Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: 2 and 7 p.m. daily, except 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Dec. 24 and Dec. 29 and no performances Dec. 17 and Christmas Day; closes Dec. 29
Tickets: $39 to $399
Contact: (415) 865-2000, www.sfballet.orgAaron RobisonCarlo Di LannoDanceHelgi TomassonMartin PakledinazMathilde FrousteynutcrackerSan Francisco BalletSasha De SolaSofiane SylveVal Caniparoli

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