Review: San Francisco Ballet Nutcracker

I know I mentioned this production already in another post, but I thought it deserved it’s own review.  With all the different versions of the Nutcracker I’ve seen (both taped and live), this is, hands down, the best.  There are many things that set this apart from the other performances out there (particularly the popular Mikhail Baryshnikov production, which has superb execution by the aforementioned dancer, but lacks in other elements, such as the complete absence of the Sugar Plum Fairy, and the somewhat creepy portrayal of Drosselmeier), which make it both unique, and unbelievably beautiful.

First, the setting.  The choice to set it during the 1915 San Francisco World’s Fair is genius.  The time period isn’t too removed from the typical Victorian-era productions, but is different enough to give a totally new feel to the ballet.  And, with the ballet taking place in San Francisco, it was able to take advantage of both the beautiful “painted ladies” of that city in Clara’s victorian home, and the eye-catching pavilion from the Fair.

The costumes were also amazing.  Again, this is in part due to the early 20th century setting.  The dresses used in the first act were fresh and beautiful, and even the children’s clothing was different enough from typical productions to be noticeable.  And, the costumes in the second act were as beautiful as they always are, but also different and new (with the possible exception of the snowflakes and their queen, portrayed by the graceful Yuan Yuan Tan, who looked as traditional and wintry as one might hope). The colors used in the costumes from both acts were bold and attractive, and well-suited to being recorded.

The second act has always been my favorite part of the Nutcracker, and it was the same in this production.  The ladybugs, butterflies and dragonflies were adorable as they danced with the Sugar Plum Fairy.  And Vanessa Zahorian as the Sugar Plum Fairy was everything you would expect from that role–beautiful, kind, gracious and elegant.  The Chinese dance was especially delightful, especially with the addition of a very playful dragon.  The French Mirlitons were also enchanting, incorporating rhythmic gymnastics style ribbons into their dance.

The true genius of this particular performance, in my opinion, came near the end.  This production took Clara’s dream to the natural conclusion–not only did she dream her nutcracker a live prince (who was portrayed by Davit Karapetyan), she also saw herself transformed into an adult, able to dance with him.  So, instead of the pas de deux  being danced by the Sugar Plum Fairy and Prince, it was danced instead by Clara and her Prince. Now, the child Clara still may not have much of an actual role in the dancing, but the character of Clara at least gets more time, and more complex dances.  Maria Kochetkova was an excellent choice to play the adult Clara, capturing much of the innocence and sweetness that Elizabeth Powell brings to the child Clara character.

I would love to see this become the standard for Nutcracker performances.  I hope PBS (which is where I first become aware of this production in December) will continue to air this every year at Christmastime, as their choice of the best production of the Nutcracker out there.  Hopefully more people will begin to purchase this DVD from stores like Amazon, as well–I find this version to be much more child-friendly than the currently highest rated Baryshnikov production, which is not aging too well (mainly due to 70’s hairstyles and poor costuming choices).

I have to say, this production re-awakened a love for the Nutcracker that I had all but forgotten I had.

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