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BWW Review: NUTCRACKER ONLINE at San Francisco Ballet Delivers Some Much-Needed Holiday Cheer

The lavish production of this holiday chestnut is available for streaming through December 31st

BWW Review: NUTCRACKER ONLINE at San Francisco Ballet Delivers Some Much-Needed Holiday Cheer
San Francisco Ballet in Helgi Tomasson's Nutcracker

If your spirits could use an extra little lift, and frankly whose couldn't these days(?!), San Francisco Ballet's Nutcracker Online may be just the tonic you need. In this most unsettling of holiday seasons when so many of us are feeling a bit unmoored and longing in vain for the festivities of years gone by, it is like a breath of fresh air to be able to reconnect with a cherished holiday tradition and perhaps even experience it in a new way. While in-person performances remain on hold, San Francisco Ballet (SFB) has made its Nutcracker Online available for streaming through December 31st. The presentation consists largely of a beautifully-produced video of its popular annual production from 2007, plus some added bells and whistles to make the experience more interactive and appeal to a wide variety of ages and differing levels of knowledge of classical ballet. Kids of all ages can enjoy learning some of the dance moves, and many folks may be surprised to learn about SFB's extensive history with this ballet, dating all the way back to Christmas Eve 1944 when SFB presented the first full-length Nutcracker ever performed in the U.S.

The current production was originally conceived and choreographed by SFB Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson in 2004 as a love letter to his adopted city of San Francisco. Most of Act I is set in a sumptuous Victorian house circa 1915, with a dramatic curving staircase and high, molded ceilings, lavishly festooned for the holidays. Scenic designer Michael Yeargan's fanciful architectural elements and fog-shrouded backdrops evoke an idyllic time and place that probably never really existed yet somehow lives on in the collective imaginations of present-day San Franciscans. Act II moves on to a somewhat abstract garden of the Crystal Palace that serves largely to provide ample room for the bravura dancing that ensues. The creative and whimsical costumes by the late, great master Martin Pakledinaz provide a riot of color throughout.

This performance fittingly provides a little of something for everyone. For kids and doting grandparents, there are over-sized toys and children aplenty onstage, delighting in playing comical scenes and dancing with grace and skill. For folks who maybe aren't so interested in pure dance and want a story, there is a timeless allegory about a young girl coming into her own. For dance fans, there is plenty here to dazzle, beginning with the glorious snow scene that closes out Act I. The second act includes an astonishing array of iconic set pieces, such as the super high-energy Russian variation and the lilting Waltz of the Flowers, to name just two. And of course, there's also the glorious, endlessly inventive and melodic Tchaikovsky score, which is always so wonderful to hear in its entirety, played by a huge orchestra under the sensitive direction of Music Director Martin West.

BWW Review: NUTCRACKER ONLINE at San Francisco Ballet Delivers Some Much-Needed Holiday Cheer
Elizabeth Powell as Clara and Damian Smith as Drosselmeyer
in San Francisco Ballet's production of Helgi Tomasson's Nutcracker

Because the performance was captured in 2007, it is also studded with unexpected surprises for longtime SFB fans. How lovely it is to see a young Elizabeth Powell (currently an SFB Soloist) as the adolescent Clara, dancing the role even at that tender age with an uncommon grace and stage presence that foreshadow the ballerina Ms. Powell has more recently blossomed into. It is equally wonderful to once again experience the elegant and mysterious Drosselmeyer of much-missed Damian Smith, who always brought a rare degree of nuance and grounding to his character roles. Davit Karapetyan makes a debonair Nutcracker Prince with his impossibly soft landings and gallant support of Maria Kochetkova in the crystalline Grand Pas de Deux. We also get luxury casting even in the smaller roles, like the enigmatic, sinuous Sarah Van Patten in the Arabian dance, and the astonishing brio of Pascal Molat with his perfectly-centered spins in the Russian trio. Musical theater fans might spot the always-dashing Garen Scribner as one of the more prominent party guests in Act I, years before he went on to play the lead in Christopher Wheeldon's An American in Paris on Broadway. Close followers of SFB will also take note of current Principle Dancers Sasha De Sola and Dores André providing elegant support among the corps de ballet in the Act I snow scene.

BWW Review: NUTCRACKER ONLINE at San Francisco Ballet Delivers Some Much-Needed Holiday Cheer
Yuan Yuan Tan as the Queen of Snow in
San Francisco Ballet's production of
Helgi Tomasson's Nutcracker

And, speaking of that snow scene, it has always been the highlight of this production, so I am happy to report that it comes across as beautifully as ever onscreen. As snow falls gently on an open stage, clusters of ballerinas skitter softly through the flakes in crisply-danced geometric patterns before the Queen and King of the Snow (the ethereal and serene Yuan Yuan Tan, expertly partnered by Pierre-François Villanoba) enter to dance a spirited and enchanting pas de deux that ups the ante. And then, just when you thought it couldn't get any lovelier, the snow really starts to come down, enshrouding the dancers in a veritable flurry and swathing the entire stage picture in an ethereal glow. It is simply magical. I could imagine happily living inside that snow scene for the rest of my life.

If you're looking for a bit of holiday cheer, it doesn't get better than this.

(Photos by Erik Tomasson)

San Francisco Ballet's Nutcracker Online is available for streaming through December 31, 2020. Visit www.sfballet.org for further details and to purchase access.

BWW Review: NUTCRACKER ONLINE at San Francisco Ballet Delivers Some Much-Needed Holiday Cheer
San Francisco Ballet in Helgi Tomasson's Nutcracker



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From This Author Jim Munson