Sunday, December 25, 2011

Ballet 101—Nutcracker

“Little girls dream of the party scene,
Older ones a chance to dance with the corps
Behind the Dew Drop Fairy,
Or perhaps be featured as an exotic candy
In the Land of Sweets.”
Audition by Stasia Ward Kehoe

I wish I had made The Nutcracker my first Ballet 101 post. After all, I did see it last year and it is the ballet to end all ballets: the one most aspiring ballerinas have been in and the one most people have seen. But for some reason, I didn’t have time to blog about it immediately afterwards and so, after a couple of days had passed, I decided not to. Now, after such a crazy fall, when I seemed barely able to post about anything but opera, a few days seem like nothing. Plus, in San Francisco, The Nutcracker marks the transition from opera season to ballet season at the War Memorial Opera House so it seems only right to mark that passage here.

I don’t necessarily see The Nutcracker every Christmas, but I do usually try to see at least one Christmas-related performance during the month of December and it often shows up in the rotation if I’m not into Messiah that year. La Belle Chantal loves it, so it’s always a great excuse for us to hit the town.

Plus, I have a thing for nutcrackers since a tree-trimming party years ago when my boyfriend at the time gave me two beautiful wooden nutcracker ornaments. Which eventually led to this madness:

Yes, there are 40+ nutcrackers on that tree.

Drosselmeyer nutcracker
The one that started it all

And, yes, I bought two more ornaments at the performance itself. I ask you, how could I not get the pink “Kingdom of the Sweets” one?

And that’s what I love about this ballet. Dolls, toys, and candy come alive? Being taken away to a magical snowy wonderland full of tasty treats where people perform just for you? Sign me up.

The San Francisco Ballet sets this particular production in San Francisco during the 1915 World’s Fair so there is a bit of local color as well. I don’t love everything about the production (notably that Clara is played by a young child and is transformed into another dancer for the pas de deux), but they set up the story well and there are a number of standout pieces, especially the “Waltz of the Snowflakes” (it is truly a spectacular feat that they are able to dance in the near-blizzard conditions on stage) and the coffee, tea, and trepak divertissement dances.

In this year’s production, two dancers stood out for me, Koto Ishihara, who played the mechanical doll in the party scene, and Frances Chung, who danced the “Grand Pas de Deux.” Of course, the casting changes from night to night, so going on a different night may mean a very different cast. However, I can’t imagine not enjoying this on any night, if only for all the little girls you will see in the audience, playing dress up and watching their dreams unfold before their very eyes.

Merry Christmas everyone and may all your dreams come true!

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