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?" " 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.


Jennifer said...

hey! it looks like we were both invited to the same event last night...i couldn't agree with you more about tomasson's choregraphy (boooring), check out our review on our blog! (sorry, shameless plug)

Civic Center said...

Dear jennifer: I've already visited your "saturday matinee" site and left you a note. Nicely written review. And yes, I was hard to miss since I was the only male at the party.

Nancy Ewart said...

Dear Mike: If you want to wash the taste of too much sweetness out of your mouth, visit:

They are putting up mp3's of all sorts of avante guarde music that is in the public domain. I have downloaded Hindemith's "Marienbad" suite and while I probably won't listen to it on a daily basis, I was favorably impressed. I found the link via Free Albums Galore which is well worth book marking.

Nancy Ewart said...

Ooops - misspellings galore. Here's the info from the website:

Das Marienleben (The Life of Mary) is German composer Paul Hindemith’s great song cycle for soprano voice and piano. The composition is based on the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke. After Bartok, Hindemith has always been my favorite composer of the 20th century. His style, often called neo-classical, is heavily influenced by the German Romantics but owes much to the contrapunctual style of Bach yet showing the atonal quality of contemporaries such as Schoenberg.

The Avant Garde Project features the two versions on their website in both large FLAC files and more manageable MP3s. Those with lots of hard disc space looking for the best sound should go for FLAC but I think the sound on the MP3 is just fine.

Becca said...

I was at the same event, too! Glad you enjoyed it (or at least portions of it). Feel free comment on "Nutcracker" and other dance events at We always like new faces and voices:)

Happy holidays!

Anonymous said...

When I try right-clicking on those links I don't get the option to download as mp3, just FLAC, which iTunes doesn't accept. (The FLAC info site encourages iTunes users to nag Apple about this, and I did.) Can you explain how to get the files as mp3, or isn't this feasible on a Mac? Thanks.

Civic Center said...

Dear namastenancy and rootlesscosmo: Please don't ask me to figure out digital sound files and their various formats. It's too much like work.

And becca, I'll check out your site soon.

Nancy Ewart said...

This page has the mp3 downloads; you go to the main paige, check out the number to see what it is that you are downloading and right click and save. I had no problem playing them in iTunes. The APG50 is the file number for the Hindesmith's Das Marienleben.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, namastenancy.

momo said...

I took my daughter to a production of the Nutcracker in SF when she was about 4--it was the old warhorse I think I had seen when I was young. I was worried she wouldn't have the patience to sit through the whole thing, so I let her wear her tutu. I shouldn't have worried; she was enchanted, and it was magical to see it with her.

Civic Center said...

Dear momo: I felt the same way about the four year old behind me. We actually ran into her and her mother on the front steps afterwards, and the mother started to apologize for her behavior, and we stopped her immediately, "Your daughter was half the fun." And then we bowed to the young ballerina, who was dressed in a green tutu.

Jerry Jarvis said...

You where so there.

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