The Nutcracker @ the San Francisco Ballet

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Who doesn’t love the Nutcracker? If you grew up in my generation, it was a must do as a child around the holidays. Not everyone had access to ballet performances, but if you live close to a city, chances are you’ve been exposed to it somewhere along the way. And, it’s global. I’ve seen it in London, Boston, Sydney and upstate New York’s Schenectady (you’ve likely not heard of it but it goes to show that even smaller cities performed it). This holiday season, we had an opportunity to see it with the San Francisco Ballet. The music is from Russian composer Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky and the choreography is by Helgi Tomasson.

It turns out that its first performance in the United States was actually in San Francisco in 1944 and since then, it’s been the most performed ballet in the country.

What’s so wonderful about this epic ballet is the diversity of costumes, dances and music all under one roof combined with its festive nature. From toy soldiers, snowflakes and children laughing to a kaleidoscope of more than 150 dancers, it is pure magic with Clara, the Sugar Plum Fairy, the valiant Nutcracker Prince, the King of Mice and beyond. Oh yeah, and let’s not forget the elegant set designs (see below).

My favorite scene. San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson’s Nutcracker // © Erik Tomasson

New to the story? It is set on a foggy Christmas Eve in 1915. You are first introduced to Drosselmeyer, who is making a nutcracker doll in his workshop for the Stahlbaum family who is having a holiday party and he can’t go empty handed.

In Act 1, you are drawn into the Stahlbaum family’s home with a festive tree and are then met by Clara, Fritz and their friends before Dr. Stahlbaum invites the guests to dance, including his daughter Clara. After Drosselmeyer—known as “Uncle Drosselmeyer” to the Stahlbaums—gives his nutcracker doll to Clara, Fritz breaks it. Alas, Drosselmeyer has to fix it and then another wonderful dance breaks out.

San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson’s Nutcracker // © Erik Tomasson *** Local Caption *** Clara: Abby Cannon

San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson’s Nutcracker // © Erik Tomasson *** Local Caption *** Clara: Abby Cannon, Fritz: Kai Hannigan

In that holiday season mystical way, Clara falls asleep on the couch where she dreams of Uncle Drosselmeyer, the nutcracker doll and the guests. Then the dream expands with enormous mice who has a King and an army of toy soldiers, however luckily her nutcracker doll comes to life to protect her. You don’t have to be a child to be on the edge of your seat for this performance.

San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson’s Nutcracker // © Erik Tomasson *** Local Caption *** Soldiers: Aria Gerking, Lizzy Steward, Sofia Garcia, Zoie Liang Mao, Alexis Altshuler, Ruby Rosenquist, Piper O’Leary Herreras, Eve Kaufman, Danica Suverkrubbe

The King of the Mice challenges the Nutcracker to a duel who after defeating the King, collapses. Uncle Drosselmeyer comes to the rescue, for he is full of magic. What happens? He transforms the Nutcracker into a dashing Prince and together, they go on a journey through the “Land of Snow.”

Yuan Yuan Tan and Henry Sidford in Tomasson’s Nutcracker // © Erik Tomasson

In Act II, there is even more drama and color with the garden of a Crystal Palace, ladybugs, dragonflies, and butterflies and guess what? They can all dance. The Sugar Plum Fairy welcomes Clara and the Prince and a festival ensues with more dancing, starting with Spanish flair, an Arabian genie (who hasn’t dreamed of genies as a child?), performers from China and French dancers with beautiful decadent ribbons. Lest not forget the Russian dancers, Madame du Cirque and a dancing bear.

San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson’s Nutcracker // © Erik Tomasson

Does it sound like heaven from a child’s eyes yet? The truth is that the Nutcracker is not only that and more for kids, but it magically transports anyone watching back into dream time from their own childhoods and it happens to be the most rewarding ones, filled with magic, wonder, mystery and fantasy.

And of course, it just keeps getting better.

The Sugar Plum Fairy waltzes with her court of Flowers after which the Sugar Plum Fairy and Uncle Drosselmeyer grant Clara a Christmas wish by transforming her into a beautiful ballerina so that she can dance with the Prince.

Frances Chung and Joseph Walsh in Tomasson’s Nutcracker // © Erik Tomasson

Nikisha Fogo in Tomasson’s Nutcracker // © Erik Tomasson

As for the beautiful ending? On Christmas morning, Clara wakes up with the nutcracker doll in her arms.

The Details

The Nutcracker’s performance runs from December 10–30, 2021 for twenty-nine performances. Helgi Tomasson, who is celebrating the final season of his 37-year tenure leading one of the world’s leading ballet companies, set his Nutcracker in San Francisco as a tribute to the Company’s hometown. And luckily, we got to benefit from it.


Above: The Curtain for their December 18 performance.

Inside the SF Opera House before the December 18 matinee performance.

The Opera House in San Francisco in December.

The orchestra setting up to prepare for the December 18 matinee performance.

“Setting this production in 1915, I wanted to capture the hope, progress, and civic pride felt by San Franciscans following the 1906 earthquake. It is in a similar spirit that we approach this year’sNutcrackerand the 2022 Season as our Company, staff, and audiences emerge from this period of historic change.”  Helgi Tomasson, Artistic Director & Choreographer

Tomasson has led San Francisco Ballet since 1985 and the San Francisco Ballet will celebrate Tomasson during his final season in 2022, as it honors his legacy and artistic leadership of the company. Bravo bravo!  Nutcracker includes more than 300 costume pieces by Tony Award-winning designer Martin Pakledinaz and scenic designs by Michael Yeargan inspired by San Francisco’s “Painted Ladies.”    

Tiit Helimets in Tomasson’s Nutcracker // © Erik Tomasson

What’s next on the horizon? If you missed the Nutcracker, then there is plenty other wonderful performances for your calendar. Highlights of the 2022 season at the War Memorial Opera House include the world premiere of Tomasson’s Harmony, a work choreographed during the pandemic and Tomasson’s 46th work on SF Ballet; Mrs. Robinson by Cathy Marston, and new works by Christopher Wheeldon and Dwight Rhoden. Helgi Tomasson’s works to be revived on the 2022 Season include Trio, Caprice, Don Quixote, The Fifth Season, Prism, and Swan Lake. Blake Works I by William Forsythe and The Seasons by Alexei Ratmansky will have their SF Ballet premieres. Additional works on the 2022 Season include Symphony in C by George Balanchine, In the Night by Jerome Robbins, La Sylphide by August Bournonville, and Magrittomania by Yuri Possokhov.

On-Site: Oh So Festive

Take a look at how festive the San Francisco Opera house looks in December, perfect for the holiday performances of this year’s Nutcracker.

Trees abound with plenty to purchase as a memory from seeing the Nutcracker at the SF Opera House this season.

The Christmas tree set up on the ground floor/entrance of the SF Opera House in December.

Characters and puppet dolls on sale at the SF Opera House for the December performances of the Nutcracker.

The gift shop area on the main floor of the SF Opera House during the Nutracker performances that run in December 2021.

We loved it and were thrilled to be out-and-about to celebrate a l’il holiday spirit.

For more information about the performance and the SF Ballet, visit their website where you can also order tickets.

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