Sunday, December 16, 2012

San Francisco Ballet - "Nutcracker"

War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco
December 13th, 2012

Being slightly surprised by some recent musings on the San Francisco Ballet’s current “Nutcracker”, I want to state for the record that Helgi Tomasson’s version of the Christmas tale is not just good, it’s transcendent. His attention to the narrative is flawless, especially in his ability to match choreography and character in the divertissements.

Dana Genshaft and Sean Orza in Tomasson's "Nutcracker"
Photo © Erik Tomasson
Act I’s ‘Dancing Dolls’ provide our first example of ‘character meeting choreography’ as Drosselmeyer (the first time I’ve seen Yuri Possokhov in the role) takes three toy dolls, super-sizes them and brings them to life. First is the ‘jack-in-the-box’ character who leaps out of a Christmas present to surprise the party guests at the Stahlbaum home. His unpredictability and off-balanced-ness sang throughout the short solo with one noted exception: a perfectly square final pirouette. Dana Genshaft followed as ‘the doll’; pretend, rigid and unreal, she was a full-size replica of a child’s toy. Her straight-kneed boureés, sharp relevés and mechanical arms spoke to the main theme in the entire ballet: the intersection of make-believe and reality. Last of course was ‘the Nutcracker’ himself, a steadfast and powerful figure, whose strength was further revealed through his variation of parallel sissones and attitude fouettés.

The divertissements of Act II – Spanish, Arabian, Chinese, French and Russian – are also models of character and choreographic consistency. For Spanish, Tomasson taps into the stylistic arms and positions that already exist in the classical ballet syllabus. With some added dynamic flare alongside staccato lifts, the result is a Spanish pas de cinq that is the picture of exuberant fire. While hyperextension of the legs and extreme flexibility in the back can at times present problems, in the Arabian trio they work to the choreographer’s advantage, revealing a sultry mysteriousness. Tomasson’s choreography for this sequence always brings to mind Gerald Arpino’s “Light Rain” for the Joffrey Ballet - in a good way. The acrobatics and allegro of the Chinese vignette give an aura of elegance and lightness, perfectly executed by Daniel Deivison. French, danced at this performance by Kimberly Braylock, Megan Amanda Ehrlich and Rebecca Rhodes, exhibits an unpredicted duality, toggling between the sexy allure of the ‘can-can’ steps and the demure femininity of the ribbons (though I must admit, the ribbon props make me nervous every year). The Russian variation was as spectacular as ever, and it was also the first time I have seen it performed without Pascal Molat in the lead. Hansuke Yamamoto did a superb job, both in his technique and his stage presence. Though Tomasson’s choreography definitely meets the character required by each divertissement, unison in each of these dances can be a bit of a challenge from time to time.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention Sasha DeSola’s glorious performance in the grand pas de deux. DeSola was just recently promoted to soloist, and she has met this challenge head on. Her technique has always been super solid, and that continues to ring true. But there is a change in her. Her command and air have developed substantially without affecting her youthful energy or obvious joy. One can see why she has moved out of the corps past some of her peers. 

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