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Alexandra

The New Nutcracker

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Here's a story by Paul Parish in San Francisco Magazine about the soon-to-be-unveiled new production of "The Nutcracker." There's some really beautiful background on the ballet as a whole, too:

Toy Story

This is a ballet that’s so appealing, it can stand up to any kind of production and still satisfy at some level. What never changes is Tchaikovsky’s glorious music and the story of a little girl next door named Clara, whose brother pesters her throughout their family’s Christmas party and breaks the Nutcracker doll that her uncle-godfather has given her. In the first act, we see all the cousins, aunts, and uncles in their best clothes, Uncle Drosselmeyer’s magic tricks, the overheated emotions of kids at a big party, with all the presents and the beautiful tree; and how, after the party, Clara comes back down to the living room to find her new doll, falls asleep, and, in a dream, shrinks to the size of a mouse, has to fight off a monstrous army of vermin with the help of the Nutcracker and her other toys, and brains the mouse king with her shoe.

. . .

A small-town recital can be a delightful thing, if you know at least one of the children involved. Since the Nutcracker is about a little girl, not a whole lot of skill is required for the ballet to enchant. But a big-city opera-house production, with fine dancers and a live orchestra, can be thrilling: snow falling from the skies, a tree that grows to giant size, apparitions materializing through trapdoors—the kinds of stage magic that lighting and costumes, scrims and stage fog, and, most of all, ballet technique can create. A Sugar Plum Fairy who darts about on tiptoe, standing, almost swimming, in the air, who really seems fairylike—well, that is something to see. A ballerina in full flight can create effects that make computer-generated wonders and trick photography seem flat by comparison.

For six decades, San Francisco Ballet’s productions have been holiday extravaganzas; the most recent version has pulled audiences back and wowed them again for 18 years. But over the past decade, under artistic director Helgi Tomasson, the company has risen spectacularly in the world’s esteem. Only a quarter the size of the Kirov or Paris Opera ballets, San Francisco Ballet is now considered one of the most exciting ballet companies in the world. The standard of dancing is extraordinarily high, and the current crop of dancers can turn this sweet story into something visionary, fantastical, even haunting. This group has long been ready for a new production that makes full use of the effects they can command. That production opens this month, and it should be truly magical.

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A wonderful article and many of us have been awaiting this NEW SFB Nutcracker for years. Every year we would hear that there would be a new production and then it would be put of another year........Alas!

I hope we will hear many reports from those lucky enough to see it. SFB is deserving of a fresh new production to fit with this great company.

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Any new reviews on SFB's Nutcracker?? Who's doing what, how they're doing, etc? It's been a while since I've heard anything about them--can anyone give an update? Thanks!

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Me too! Calling all San Franciscan Ballet Alertniks....... :)

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Well, I was at Opening Night on Friday and I saw the matinee again today (Sunday) and I chaperoned tonight.

The new productions is WONDERFUL. Helgi Tomasson has really created a new production that honors San Francisco and still has a charming, old world feel, but is also very new and very exciting. It was so delightful to watch it on opening night and hear how completely dazzled the audience was.

I'm not sure exactly what people want to hear about the new production. Tomorrow's Chronicle is going to have a full review of the production - you can see it at www.sfgate.com. The scenery was beautiful, the costumes gorgeous (especially the bugs, but then, as a bug mom, I'm partial. :blink: )

I couldn't possibly type up the whole ballet - I actually started but after 4 paragraphs I hadn't even gotten to the fight scene. Is there anything in particular people are curious about?

Sharon

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Hey gang,

Here is the San Francisco Chronicle review:

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?...DDGU6ADPSK1.DTL

Here is a photo of the snow scene (one of the most beautiful scenes, this photo only really shows the costumes):

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/object/artic...OAE3K41.DTL&o=0

Here are photos of Clara-as-an-adult and the soldiers with the Nutcracker:

http://www.voiceofdance.org/Insights/insig...500000000000198

Sharon

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Hi, Sharon! Welcome to Ballet Alert! and thank you for posting, and posting the links to reviews.

We'd love to know what you thought of the dancing and just something about the overall production -- it's a traditional one, I gather. You don't need to do a blow by blow description; that would take tiime! But you could tell us what you especially liked about it.

Here are links to two more reviews, by Paul Parish and Ann Murphy on DanceView Times:

DanceView Times

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Hi Alexandra! Actually, I've posted a bunch on the parents forum, so I recognize yours (and many other) names.

Yes, it's an Edwardian-set-in-San-Francisco production. The second act is less cutsie and more elegantly beautiful. The dancing was beautiful, especially on opening night, but I'm not one of those people who can judge technical prowess (I tend to look for expressionism and artistry over technical perfection, which is why I really liked Megan Low in the role of Sylvia last Spring).

There are lots of spoilers in this post, so don't read if you want to be surprised.

For me the highlights would be:

- The slide show at the very beginning showing photos of 1915 San Francisco. The last photo zooms in on a particular storefront - Drosselmeyer's shop. The curtain rises and there is Drosselmeyer in his shop. Very clever transition.

- Drosselmeyer is very magical. Some Drosselmeyers are creepy or almost pediophiliac. This one is very benign and magical. He performs magic tricks for the party children. During the second act it's Drosselmeyer who keeps company with Clara, rather than the Prince. (The Prince escorts her to the fantasy land, then she's with Drosselmeyer until the child Clara is replaced by the adult Clara (who was Tina LeBlanc on opening night.) At that point the Prince (Gonzalo Garcia on opening night) comes back and they dance their endless pas de deux. Really, I think it's still TOO LONG. Though it was beautifully danced. I saw a different couple dance it on Sunday and there were several technical errors that had me a bit worried. (I feel so badly for the dancers when they have problems.)

- The beautiful Edwardian costumes on the adults in the party scene. The girls wear those Edwardian drop-waisted dresses which I don't find particularly flattering. The boys wear knicker-type suits.

- The transition to the oversized furniture just before the mice arrive was really amazing and the audience gasped with delight. Drosselmeyer comes on, makes Clara's sofa spin in a circle around the floor and waives the original scene away and magicks the tree to grow. Then an ENORMOUS credenza slides in from the left, an ENORMOUS fireplace (carrying the full sized Nutcracker who had been placed by the fire) slides in from the right. ENORMOUS packages slide in along the back (secretly containing some mice). Some of this scenery weighs 2000 pounds.

- The fight scene was one of my favorite scenes with children. It was very exciting and funny. The soldiers arrive when the Nutcracker orders the credenza door to open, like the gangplank of the ship, and the soldiers march down. Clara directs the soldiers to catch the mouse king with a giant mousetrap. The mouse king's death/exit is quick and effective. (He falls headfirst through a hole in the floor.)

- In general the scenery is constantly changing and you want to keep watching it. One of the most breathtakingly beautiful scenes is the Snow scene. Yuan Yuan Tan danced the part of Snow Queen on opening night. I noticed when I saw the production again on Sunday that one of the snowflakes was missing her crown. I was mesmerized, looking for that crown. Did it fall off and was hidden in the snow? Was she late and didn't have time to get it on? I'll never know.

- The Snow Queen and King arrive on the most beautiful sleigh, drawn by 4 horses. Those horse costumes are beautiful. Later, the horses withdraw and the sleigh is turned around and becomes Clara's chair.

- The second Act opens on a scene of bugs (students). The curtain opens on 4 little ladybugs (the youngest) and 8 butterflies. Then 4 dragonflies leap on (one of those is my 12-year-old) and they have a beautiful dance. Then they form a corridor and the Flower Fairy enters (Muriel Maffre on opening night). A bit later the flowers enter and then the sleigh containing Clara and the Prince. The Prince re-enacts the fight scene and Clara's part in it as the bugs and flowers watch admiringly. The costumes worn by the bugs are especially beautiful and my daughter was thrilled to be able to dance with her hair down. The dragonflies wear wings with a 4-foot wing span (boy, they had trouble maneuvering with those backstage the first time they wore them).

- I especially liked the Merletons in the second act. They hold pink ribbons as they dance (I hear it's a very difficult dance, thanks to those ribbons) and their dance is reminiscent of a can-can. On Sunday, Amanda Schull was the center merleton. On Sunday's performance one of the Merlteton's ribbon got hopelessly tangled up. It's very tricky to keep those ribbons moving, but I hope they can figure it out because it's very pretty and I'd hate to see them delete the ribbons.

- The Russian dance is basically the same - always a huge crowd pleaser. Except this time the dancers explosively emerge from 3 huge Fabrege eggs.

- Mother Ginger (my daughter's first role 4 years ago) has been replaced by Madame du Cirque. It's the same man in the dress, but this time it's a 3-pointed circus tent and the 8 children are adorable little clowns. Inside the tent is a charming little bear who is very roley poley and cute.

That's basically the highlights. Overall the production was very clever, very beautiful, very polished. Helgi did an amazing job. Kudos to him.

Sharon

Edited by sfshaza

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Wow! Thank you, Sharon! Please come this way more often!! And if you happen to see other casts, don't be shy about telling us. You gave us a real sense of the production.

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Yes, thanks! I grew up in the Bay Area going to SFB's Nut, and I miss going now, so it's nice to hear about the new production. The reason that my daughter is a dancer today is because I took her to see SFB's Nut when she was three (yes, she was quiet!).

I remember being fascinated, years ago, because Mother Ginger's skirt was a giant house, and "smoke" came out of the chimney!

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Yes, I remember that smoke - it irritated the throats of some of the girls. The cottage was very cute but the new circus tent is also very cute. No smoke, which is better for the kids, I think. My daughter also wanted to dance after seeing Nutcracker years ago. Of course, she's only 12, so we'll see how far it goes.

Another highlight I forgot to mention is the Chinese dance. This was a hot topic awhile back on the parents forum. The new version has a single male Chinese dancer who is very acrobatic. (Lots of one-handed cartwheels and so on.) As he comes onstage he is followed by a beautiful Chinese dragon, consisting of several of the older male SFB students. The audience loved it and, again, I like how it ties in with San Francisco history.

I think the new second act is more appealing to children. When I watched the performance on Sunday I was sitting in the box seats, surrounded by lots of little tykes. I noticed that most were mesmerized - up until the Pas De Deux and the more "grown up" pieces. But they loved the bugs, the clowns with the bear, the Chinese piece, the merletons with the ribbons. The Arabian is carried on in a magic lamp, which is cute, and she dances with her two porters. But it wasn't my favorite piece.

Sharon

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Yes, I remember that smoke - it irritated the throats of some of the girls.

It was actually SMOKE? I thought it was, I don't know, dry ice or something. I can see why it would be irritating! Do you know how it worked?

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Sharon,

Thank you so much for posting such a wonderful review! I live in Seattle, but travel to the Bay Area a few times a year for the ballet and opera, and I can see this must be on my calendar for next year.

It was really interesting to hear that Act II is of great interest to children and holds their attention, at least until the "gushy" parts. In the Balanchine version, and for the most part in Kent's Stowell's for PNB, few other than the dancer kids are interested in the Act II dances. (Many kids are there to see their friends perform, and once the child angels or slaves leave at the beginning of Act II, we're lucky if all they do is snooze!) It's very exciting that Tomasson has created an Act II world to keep them drawn in for most of the ballet.

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Yes, it was real smoke. I remember watching them "load" it into the little chimney. The chimney, of course, was closed on the bottom and held the little smoking pot. They were very good about loading it at the last minute, after the girls were under the skirt, after that coughing incident. The smoke smelled kind of weird.

The new Madame du Cirque looks like something from Beach Blanket Babylon, from those of you who have seen that.

For those of you who are local, channel 2 (KTVU) had a half hour show about the new Nut last Saturday at 7pm. I TiVo'd it, but I don't have a VCR to make tapes. It will be repeated once more on channel 2 (Christmas Eve, I think) and again on Channel 36 (KICU). I don't remember the exact times, but it shows lots of snippets from the production (including a few seconds of the bug scene) and it was filmed on opening night. In fact, my daughter and I arrived just as they were filming the intro on the steps of the Opera House and we watched for a couple of minutes.

But then, we were on to the lobby where they have TONS of free treats - my daughter headed right for the See's table. Then she and her friend made the rounds of all the tables. They were in HEAVEN. :blink:

The show also talks about the new costumes and new scenery and shows those being produced. And it interviews Helgi. It definitely gets a permanent place on my TiVO hard drive.

I also found this glowing review from the Contra Costa Times:

http://www.contracostatimes.com/mld/cctime...10458605.htm?1c

Sharon

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Can anyone who's seen the production say whether this Nutcracker is based more on Vainonen or Balanchine? I like both ideas very much, and it seems every Nutcracker is more inspired by Vainonen's vision or Balanchine's.

Any chance this Nutcracker will be videotaped??? That would be WONDERFUL!!! And thanks Sharon for the wonderful review!

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Someone more expert at ballet will have to answer this regarding choreography. But I did look up Vainonen and this does seem to have some of the story elements of Vainonen - there's no Sugar Plum Fairy, for example. The Sugar Plum Fairy role is actually Clara as an adult.

According to one description I found about Vainonen vs Balanchine, it said:

A Nutcracker as a child's dream fantasy filled with sweets and fun (Balanchine) or a romantic dream of a teenaged girl (Vainonen).

While this is an older Clara (she's on the transition to womanhood and is played by 13-16 year olds - in the past it's been younger Claras), I wouldn't call it tremendously romantic. One interview I read said that Helgi wanted an older Clara because he wanted her concern for the injured prince to be believable - he said he didn't just want a pretty face. (There are 4 Claras this year - usually there are 3. Three are students and one is a company apprentice.)

At the end of the Nutcracker Clara wakes up on her sofa, looks around at her livingroom as if she can't believe she's home, picks up her Nutcracker and runs up the staircase into the arms of her mother as the curtain descends. Both times I saw it I teared up - it's very sweet.

I gather that another Vainonen tradition is that most of the roles are played by adults. That is true for the Prince - he's now played by a company member. This is not a dark version of Nutcracker and there is no undercurrent of any relationship between Clara and Drosselmeyer beyond that of a kindly uncle. But is it inspired by Vainonen in the larger sense? I don't know and I haven't seen any articles or interviews that mention this distinction.

I doubt that any video will be made for sale. Of course the company has their own copies and on a local channel there was a half hour special that had snippets of it. I do wish that at least a book would be made with photos. If you can't tell, I'm a freak about the costumes. :blink: One reason I'm not a huge Balanchine fan - I *like* costumes!!! And story! All that Balanchine last season was tough on me. I'm not enough of a ballet purist to love dance for dances sake without the other frippery. (You should know that I didn't care a whit about ballet until my daughter got passionate. So I started taking her to performances and educating myself by reading books. Just like I go to my other daughter's soccer games and Aikido classes. So I can't pretend to be a real balletomane. In fact, I never know how to pronounce that word. :lol: )

Sharon

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Not having seen the production, but having read various descriptions of it, I can see the Vainonen influence in making the Clara the ballerina part. Actually, this is a telescoping of three parts in the original libretto, Clara, the Sugar Plum Fairy and Marianne, the last-named being a favorite cousin or older sister. But apart from that, I'd say the sense of the production is closer to the Balanchine concept, in that it hews to the original libretto fairly closely. The divertissement is not merely sweets and goodies, but a celebration of prosperity as illustrated by consumer goods. A great number of the original products were recognizable brands newly available on the Russian market.

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It all sounds so exciting!! Can anyone give a little more description of the divertisments? Also, is Helgi using any new dancers for leads roles. . . or anyone new that we should watch out for?? I wish I could go to see the new production!

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The smoke was incense that they burned. It irritated the kids quite a bit. No smoke under the tent in the new show.

I saw Pipit-Suksun dance snow queen Sunday (12/26, matinee). She is a lovely dancer but made a few technical mistakes and was generally less than vertical. She seemed to be making Stephan Legate work a bit too hard.

Otherwise a wonderful production. My compliments to Caroline Hearst as Clara. She hit the "girl between kid and adult" thing just right.

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The website does not list the girls playing Clara. Does anyone know which girls are performing that role?

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There are 4 Claras:

Caroline Hearst (opening night)

Lauren Foose (the one in all the TV and print ads - Helgi primarily

choreographed the role on her last summer - how cool is that?)

Renee Donovan

and the 16-year-old apprentice. I'm sorry, but I don't know her name.

I agree that Caroline did a great job.

Sharon

Edited by sfshaza

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For those of you interested in specifics about the principal dancers performances, here's a review by someone who saw the new Nut more than once:

http://www.voiceofdance.org/Insights/insig...500000000000199

I had friends in the audience for the 21st when the mouse king's head fell off. They said he dealt with it gracefully, but it's mentioned in this article.

Another friend of mine saw it today and he thought the orchestra was flawless. He said he couldn't remember hearing such a beautiful orchestra -- both his parents played in the SF Symphony orchestra years ago. He loved the new Nut, but he wanted to talk more about the orchestra. :)

Sharon

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