Sugarplums fill the air in San Francisco Ballet’s annual 'Nutcracker'

For Elana Altman, a featured soloist in the San Francisco Ballet’s annual “Nutcracker,” her first memory of ballet goes back to age 3, when she attended a performance of the Tchaikovsky classic in the War Memorial Opera House.

The costumes, as well as the music and dance, made an impression on her — so much that she wanted to become a dancer.

“After the performance,” the San Francisco native recalls, “a family friend took me backstage to see the costumes up close. I fell in love with the beautiful colors of the costumes for the Dance of the Flowers, and it all came full circle when just six years later I was onstage as one of the children, wearing those costumes myself!”

The San Francisco Ballet, now performing Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson’s version of the work, was the first company in the country to stage “Nutcracker,” all the way back in 1944. The original by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov premiered in 1892.

Year after year, with thousands of performances around the country, “Nutcracker” keeps its fascination for new audiences, serving as an introduction to ballet for each generation.

But what is it like for dancers and orchestra musicians to give two dozen consecutive performances?

“Far from being a chore, conducting Tchaikovsky’s astonishing score over and over is one of my true pleasures,” San Francisco Ballet Music Director Martin West says. “Every year I am amazed how much there is still to discover in this masterpiece.”

The score has been called among the composer’s most ambitious, complex and fully realized works.

Santa Cruz resident Casey Coonerty Protti, who at 6 years old danced in choreographer Tandy Beal’s alternative “Nutcracker” production, recalls the performances as some of the most exciting moments in her young life.

“Although by performing in it I was able to see how the production came together, every time I went onstage, without fail, I was transported to another place,” she says.

With two young children of her own, today she daydreams about taking them for the first time to the opera house, so she can “get to see the magic fill their eyes.”

The current “Nutcracker,” created by Tomasson, is set in San Francisco during the 1915 World’s Fair. Production designers say their goal was to present Clara’s dreamlike journey as an ode to The City’s historical grandeur, amid colorful, larger-than-life scenery showcasing 200 dazzling costumed characters.



Presented by the San Francisco Ballet

Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave, S.F.

When: 7 p.m. Dec. 9; 2 and 7 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays, except 7 p.m. only Dec. 13; 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Dec. 24; no performance Christmas Day; closes Dec. 27

Tickets: $22 to $275

Contact: (415) 865-2000,

Sometimes you feel like a nut …
Mark Foehringer’s Nutcracker Sweets

Celebrating its third year, the fun and zany version of the classic has a contemporary twist and features former ODC dancer Brian Fisher as Drosselmeyer.

When: Nov. 26-Dec. 23

Where: Children’s Creativity Museum, 221 Fourth St., S.F.


Note: The troupe presents excerpts from the dance in a free 30-minute performance at 3 p.m. Nov. 20 at the San Francisco Main Library, 100 Larkin St.

SF Youth Ballet

The “Nutcracker” performance is a full-length version featuring principal dancers Bernadette Torres and Carlo di Dio from California Ballet Company, students of San Francisco Youth Ballet and guest dancers from the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance.

When: 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 3; 2 and 5 p.m. Dec. 4

Where: Mercy High School. 3250 19th Ave., S.F.

Contact: (415) 731-2237,

Dance-Along Nutcracker

Performed by the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band, this year’s wacky and participatory “Nutcracker,” subtitled “Clara’s Magical Mystery Tour,” is inspired by the Summer of Love, taking audiences on a psychedelic journey through the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.

Where: Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission St., S.F.

When: 7 p.m. Dec. 10, 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Dec. 11

(415) 978-2787,

Peninsula Ballet Theatre

In its fourth decade of offering the holiday classic, the company this year presents “Nutcracker” created by Bruce Steivel, the conservatory’s newly appointed artistic director. Following the finale, audience members are invited onstage to meet the dancers.

When: 7 p.m. Dec. 10 and 17, 2 p.m. Dec. 11 and 18

Where: Fox Theatre, 2215 Broadway, Redwood City


Moscow Ballet

The acclaimed troupe of award-winning performers, trained at the Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet, has presented “The Great Russian Nutcracker” in North America for 19 years.

When: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 16

Where: Flint Center for the Performing Arts, 21250 Stevens Creek Blvd., Cupertino

Contact: (800) 745-3000,

Sometimes you don’t
Christmas Ballet

Smuin Ballet’s annual show combines colorful classic dances by the late Michael Smuin and new works by Amy Seiwert and Robert Sund in a program including ballet, tap, swing and international folk dances.

When: Dec. 14-24

Where: Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission St., S.F.

(415) 556-5000,

Winter Fairy Tale

Bayer Ballet Academy, a school of Russian dance, presents a holiday program that brings to life a Russian New Year’s Eve forest fairy tale, filled with animals, animated toys and fairyland creatures, set to the music of Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov.

When: 5 p.m. Dec. 17, 2 p.m. Dec. 18

Where: Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View

Contact: (650) 903-6000,