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Pyotr Il’yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Nutcracker - ballet in two acts (1891-2)
Clara - Elizabeth Powell
Nutcracker Prince - Davit Karapetyan
Uncle Drosselmeyer - Damien Smith
Mouse King - David Arce
Snow Queen - Yuan Yuan Tan
Snow King - Pierre-Françoise Vilanoba
Sugar Plum Fairy - Vanessa Zahorian
Grand Pas De Deux Ballerina - Maria Kochetkova
Chinese Man - Nicolas Blanc
Genie - Sarah Van Patten
San Francisco Ballet
San Francisco Ballet Orchestra/Martin West
choreography by Helgi Tomasson
rec. live, War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco, 19, 21 December 2007
OPUS ARTE DVD OA 1002 D [13:00]


Experience Classicsonline

This is a magical production of Nutcracker and so cleverly conceived with its fascinating associations with San Francisco. The ballet’s story is set in the San Francisco of 1915, the year the City was host to the Panama Pacific International Exhibition. The sets and costumes are absolutely gorgeous. The prelude has everyday characters of that period moving in front of a backcloth of familiar-looking San Franciscan Victorian houses with those grandiose steps leading steeply up to front doors, through one of which Uncle Drosselmeyer steps into the ballet’s first act. Drosselmeyer is presented as a benign Uncle figure and magician and, during Clara’s dream sequences, as wizard and compère through the speciality dances.

The bonus interviews with the production’s choreographer (Helgi Tomasson), scenic designer (Michael Yeargan) and costume designer (Martin Pakledinaz) indicate the immense research and dedication that went into its realization. (It was first performed in December 2004.)  For instance, Pakledinaz  relates how it was necessary to create layers of different coloured tulle to obtain the right hues for the corps de ballet dancers in the ‘Waltz of the Flowers’. Layers of semi-transparent white tulle interspersed with glistenings make up the ballet length dresses for the classical ballet that is the ‘Waltz of the Snowflakes’. These delicate ‘floating’ creations, together with snow-flake-crystal-style head-dresses produce an exquisite fairy-land effect.

Act I commences with a Christmas party in full flow in the warmth and conviviality of a large family gathering. The set is cosy Victorian/Edwardian with a large Christmas tree and a sweeping staircase. The ladies are dressed in Edwardian slim, classical-line, ankle-length dresses for the popular social dancing. The apotheosis as Clara, clutching the Nutcracker doll, dreams, is ingeniously handled so that the Christmas tree and the living room furniture grow to gigantic proportions and the villainous mice appear on the scene only to be routed by the heroic Nutcracker General and his troops. He is then released from his magic spell, his huge fierce-looking mask is whisked away so he can be transformed into the handsome prince. Clara is then transported with Drosselmeyer as guide to the Pavilion of Dreams to witness the many speciality dances that comprise Act II. The Pavilion of Dreams is designed around the large-domed Pavilion of the 1915 Exposition – now San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts. All these dances are splendidly and most originally conceived and beautifully performed. The Bear King roly-polies out of Madame du Cirque’s gigantic skirt (shaped like a huge circus tent); and the Chinese Man (a rubber-jointed Nicolas Blanc) dances out in front of a twisting giant dragon (another San Francisco conceit – recalling the City’s significant China Town). The San Francisco corps de ballet shines especially in the numbers described above. Special mention must be made of the star dancers, who earned tumultuous applause: the supremely athletic Davit Karapetyan and the lovely graceful Maria Kochetkova - reminding me very much of Audrey Hepburn’s elfin looks - who seemed to float rather than jump into the arms of Karapetyan in their ‘Grand Pas de Deux.’ 

Truly magical.  The ideal family Christmas present. 

Grace and Ian Lace


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