Monday, December 16, 2019

San Francisco Ballet - "Nutcracker"

San Francisco Ballet
War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco
December 14th, 2019 (matinee)

It always seems impossible that an entire year has passed and yet, here we are. December has arrived and in the classical ballet community, that means Nutcracker. A narrative that follows Clara’s journey (or Marie depending on the version) through a snowy forest to a land of sweets with her Nutcracker Prince, a holiday gift from her Uncle that comes to life. If you happen to be in Northern California during Nutcracker, an extra layer of lineage and significance comes with the festive two–act ballet. On Christmas Eve, seventy-five years ago, it was San Francisco Ballet who first debuted the full-length tale to audiences on this continent. Three quarters of a century later, SFB’s Nutcracker continues to delight and astound.

Choreographed by Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson, SFB’s current version similarly looks back, transporting the viewer to San Francisco in the early decades of the twentieth century as the well-to-do Stahlbaums celebrate the holidays with their family and friends. Historic details and lavish opulence imbue the elegant soirée, made even more magical by the arrival of Uncle Drosselmeyer, impeccably portrayed by Val Caniparoli. The adults responsibly imbibe while the children delight in illusions and full-size dancing dolls. Always a stunner, the ballerina doll variation has both novelty and technical bravado to spare. The soloists who have embodied the part over the years have certainly impressed with their theatricality and single-footed pointe work, but I think after Saturday’s matinee, it’s fair to say that this might be Julia Rowe’s role. She was absolutely transcendent, tackling the relevé sequences with gusto while remaining totally in character throughout.

Luke Ingham and Mathilde Froustey in
Tomasson's Nutcracker
Photo © Erik Tomasson
Night falls, the guests depart, the house and its remaining inhabitants change state and the mystery goes on. After the battle scene with the mice and their King, the Nutcracker’s jubilance at his victory and transformation was undeniable. Luke Ingham soared through the air during his solo, the perfect combination of human and otherworldly being. And then we were onto my favorite Nutcracker scene: the snow. First and foremost, I often comment on the sheer amount of snow, truly believing that there is a little more added each year. I can’t say for sure whether that’s true, but at this performance, there were drifts galore and piling masses accumulating on stage. It was a bona fide blizzard! Unfortunately, the scene itself was a little underwhelming. As the Queen and King of the Snow, Elizabeth Powell and Lonnie Weeks started things off strong with the necessary regality and command. Save a couple of tricky moments, they kept things going well. But the snowflakes, the corps, seemed to be struggling as a group on Saturday. Timing, unison and placement weren’t always on their side, and so, what is typically a beautiful moment in the ballet looked rather chaotic. Though, at the same time, storms are too. Perhaps the approach to this scene is changing?

Kamryn Baldwin in Tomasson's Nutcracker
Photo © Erik Tomasson
Onto Act II, with its collection of divertissements, which excited at every turn. As the Sugar Plum Fairy, Dores André led the charge with refinement and grace, joined later by the enchanting pairing of Sarah Van Patten (as the grown up Clara) and Ingham in the grand pas de deux. Two of the dances stood out for their incredibly attention to precision and clarity: the Spanish pas de cinq’s (Megan Amanda Ehrlich, Miranda Silveira, Davide Occhipinti, Jacob Seltzer and Myles Thatcher) spacing and unison was enviable, as was the French trio’s (Kimberly Marie Olivier, Maggie Weirich and Ami Yuki), who have to contend with the added challenge of twirling lengthy satin ribbons while performing. Things went a little better for the corps during the Waltz of the Flowers, though again in sync port de bras sequences seemed somewhat elusive.  

No comments: