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Christmas Addendum: San Francisco Nutcracker

Available from Amazon
Tchaikovsky, The Nutcracker, H. Tomasson, San Francisco Ballet

(released on November 18, 2008)
Opus Arte DVD OA 1002 D
After attending her first Nutcracker, Miss Ionarts has been obsessive about that ballet, meaning that we have been watching this recently arrived DVD of San Francisco Ballet's new production of this Christmas chestnut (also broadcast last month on PBS). Unlike the Metropolitan Opera Hansel and Gretel DVD reviewed yesterday, this is a very kid-friendly version of a beloved work that is, at the same time, not bogged down (too much) in the same old traditional ideas. Helgi Tomasson's choreography, premiered in 2004, shifts the action to San Francisco at the time of the 1915 World's Fair. After the devastating earthquake of 1906, the city celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal, in a moment of quintessentially American optimism, with a lavish fair to represent the city's hope of becoming a center of commerce because of the new possibilities in Atlantic-Pacific trade.

Michael Yeargan's sets place the opening scene on a fog-filled San Francisco street of Painted Ladies, the brightly colored Victorian houses for which the city is famous. A fairly traditional opening to the first act, including the Harlequin and Colombine toys presented by Drosselmeyer, has a few interesting changes. The soldier's dance is recast as a dance for the Nutcracker, who appears in his large form early. The transformation into Clara's dream is exciting, as the Christmas tree grows upward and huge forms of the small presents by the tree appear (the fireplace and toy cabinet, too), showing Clara shrinking down to the size of the mice.

The real ingenuity of the production is in the second act, where Clara and the Prince, after passing through the world of snow, arrive at the Sugar Plum Fairy's realm, not of sweets, but transformed versions of the national pavilions at the World's Fair grounds. For the Arabian dance a genie appears from Aladdin's lamp, there is an articulated New Year's dragon for the Chinese dance, three Russian dancers pop out of Fabergé eggs, and the three ribbon dancers for the Mirlitons seem like French can-can dancers. Miss Ionarts especially liked Mère Gigogne and the polichinelles, who were clowns that come out from a huge circus tent mother, with a very cute dancing bear. Tomasson made the most striking change by having the Grand Pas de Deux at the end be danced not by the Sugar Plum Fairy, but by Clara (and the Nutcracker Prince, instead of the Cavalier), whom we see transformed from a little girl (Elizabeth Powell) into a real ballerina (Maria Kochetkova). For Miss Ionarts and surely many other little girls watching this production, that is a dream come true.


1 comment:

Pessimisissimo said...

I, too, enjoyed this strikingly designed and attractively choreographed Nutcracker. It did seem to me that several of this production's changes--in particular, the growth not only of the tree, but of the presents and furniture in the first act, and the final pas de deux being danced by Clara and the Prince--were derived from Mark Morris's The Hard Nut.

The change in the pas de deux makes theatrical and emotional sense. In most productions (including the previous San Francisco Ballet version), Clara is reduced to a spectator for the entire second act; in Mark Morris's (and now Helgi Tomasson's) reconception, the second act now culminates in Clara's own transformation.

I don't mean to take Tomasson to task for making use of elements of Morris's rethinking of the piece--I think they're highly effective improvements. Instead, I wanted to recommend The Hard Nut to anyone who hasn't seen it. It's an affectionate parody of Nutcracker which is thoroughly enjoyable on its own terms, and which paradoxically follows ETA Hoffmann's original story more closely.