Sunday, December 12, 2021

The San Francisco Ballet Returns

After the triumphant returns this fall of both the San Francisco Opera and the San Francisco Symphony across Grove Street, it was finally San Francisco Ballet's turn for resurrection on Friday night. This was after the company was suddenly shut down mid-season in March of 2020 when the pandemic arrived.
Tchaikovsky's 1892 Nutcracker was a particularly fitting vehicle for the San Francisco Ballet's return since the company gave the ballet's first full-length performances in the U.S. in 1944, ten years before Balanchine staged his version with the New York City Ballet and a couple of decades before it became a Christmas perennial all over the world in the 1960s. (All production photos by Erik Tomasson.)
The timing also felt apt because this is the last year for Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson before his retirement from the company he has led for 37 years, and the 2004 Nutcracker is one of his best productions, set in a 1915 San Francisco Victorian before journeying into an enchanted dreamland.
Tomasson came onstage before the show and gave a short, emotional, heartfelt welcome to the audience which roared back in happiness.
Following the lead of both SF Opera and SF Symphony, proof of vaccination was required for entry and from what I observed, just about everyone was conscientious about wearing their masks inside the auditorium.
The opening audience was a delightful mixture of little girls in princess dresses...
...what looked to be ballet students...
...and multi-generational family groups where the SF Ballet Nutcracker is an annual tradition.
On the Grand Tier outdoor balcony, we ran into Andrea Kohlruss, who I met when we were supernumerary slaves in a legendary 1991 SF Opera production of Elektra. In 2004, she was offered a cameo role in the new production of Nutcracker as a nun crossing the stage during the Prologue, and she's been doing it ever since, except this year because supernumeraries were replaced by members of the ballet company as a COVID precaution.
Austin had never seen a professional production of Nutcracker before, and he was unreasonably excited beforehand.
When asked afterwards what he tought of the production, Austin replied, "It exceeded all expectations."
The standout dancer of the evening was Joseph Walsh as the Nutcracker who is actually a Handsome Prince. His style is less flashy than it is elegant, with landings from leaps that look effortless, weightless, and altogether beautiful. He was also a gallant partner for his various ballerinas, who all seemed to dance better when he joined them.
The greatest joy for me was listening to the SF Ballet orchestra perform Tchaikovsky's score with both delicacy and passion under longtime Music Director Martin West. There was nothing routine about the playing and it was a potent reminder of how gorgeous this musical score can be.
There are 25+ performances remaining before New Years Day at the SF Opera House (click here). The snowstorm finale of Act I is worth the price of admission alone.


Lisa Hirsch said...

I haven't seen The Nutcracker live since my mom took me to see it at NY City Center, pre-Lincoln Center. I think that I will pick up a ticket.

Civic Center said...

Dear Lisa: It really is an exquisite musical score and the staging is sumptuous. I'm not a big fan of Tomasson's choreography in general, but this production works.