Wednesday, December 19, 2007
San Francisco Ballet's "Nutcracker"
You know it's the Christmas season around the Civic Center just by walking down the sidewalk on Van Ness Avenue, where you will suddenly be surrounded by hundreds of beautifully dressed children, mostly girls, excitedly making their way to the Opera House where the San Francisco Ballet performs Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker" every year, usually twice a day.
In the fifteen years I've lived in the neighborhood, I've never attended a performance, figuring the show wasn't designed for a hardened cynic like myself, and the sight of all those kids wasn't particularly appealing.
However, a dozen online writers including myself were invited by the ballet company for a lovely reception with crabcakes and wine in a Ballet School rehearsal studio at their Franklin Street headquarters, and then treated to a performance with great seats in the orchestra.
Part of my resistence to attending this "Nutcracker" was because it was a newish 2004 production, the fifth in the company's history, and it was choreographed by Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson. I think Tomasson has turned the ballet company into one of the greatest ensembles in the world over the last 20 years, for which he deserves all credit, but as a choreographer he bores the heck out of me, especially when he tackles a story ballet.
Nothing I saw last night made me revise that opinion, but the show and the performance itself was wonderful. The scenic design by Michael Yeargan, setting the tale in 1915 San Francisco, is sensational and the Act 1 finale in the Land of the Snow is close to perfection.
The presence of all the small children also turned out to be part of the amusement. They were amazingly well-behaved, and even when they talked, it was in their "inside voice" and often quite funny.
During the Arabian dance, two muscular, turbaned dancers brought out a large magic lamp that was emitting steam. Before Adeline Kaiser could rise out of the lamp to dance around in her harem outfit, the tiny girl seated behind us who looked like she was about four years old asked her mother, "What's in there?" "Shhhh...you shouldn't be talking." "Are they cooking a hot dog in there?" I'll never see another magic lamp in any movie or stage production without thinking the same thing.