San Francisco Ballet
Dec. 7, 2012
War Memorial House
San Francisco, CA
by Rita Felciano
Copyright © Rita Felciano, 2012
Helgi Tomasson's 2004 elegant, reserved and at times cool "Nutcracker" was not love at first sight. But gradually, I have warmed to it, not just appreciating the skill and care that went into it but getting emotionally touched by it. Tomasson moved the Stahlbaum family into one of those iconic San Francisco Victorians at the time of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exhibit. The second act he set in an imaginary Crystal Palace with master Lighting Designer James F. Ingall suggesting the passage of time from dawn to dusk into an eternal blue. In its vast emptiness, that place still feels chilly. But there was nothing chilly about Opening Night and the reception the ballet received from the audience -- both first-time viewers and longtime patrons. May this beloved, now American classic fill the coffers of the hundreds of companies performing it this season.
Tomasson's bustling street scene, backgrounded by the dark Victorians' luminous interiors, suggests warmth and conviviality. It is unusually rich with deliverymen, nuns, nursemaids and shoppers hurrying to and fro. Damian Smith's Drosselmeyer is one of them, eager to make a last minute sale; his large gestures and intensity already portray him as a man of surprises.
The Stahlbaum's Christmas Party is an orderly though not stiff affair with the children doing the first dance as, perhaps, a present to the adults. In an imaginative touch, Clara (Natasha Sheehan) receives a jewelry case out of which the grown-up Clara will step for the Grand Pas de Deux. Tomasson's Clara is on the verge of puberty, delighted to join the grownups with her father. But comes the battle, she proves to be also a resourceful young woman who brings and controls her own arsenal, a giant mousetrap.
Lonnie Weeks, who later returned in the Chinese variation, was all leaps as the clown, while wide-eyed Clara Blanco one more time managed to enchant with the incisiveness of her point work. Even though Sean Orza's King of the Mice has tumbled into that orchestra pit quite a few times, he still brings the house down. It's one of these cases in which a surprise works even if it's no longer a surprise.
This year's "Nutcracker" introduced Australian soloist Luke Ingham to the company. He is tall handsome with good lines and nice elevation, a fine addition to the roster. Despite a couple glitches as Snow King, he attentively partnered a secure but cool Sarah Van Patten. Braving a veritable blizzard, the sixteen snowflakes deployed their running leaps and kaleidoscopically shifting group formation with aplomb. It was corps work at this best -- an indicator of just how fine a company SFB is.
Yet this evening belonged to Principal dancer Frances Chung's Grand Pas de Deux. It was such a pleasure to see her in first cast. Steady in her balances and immaculate in descents, with Fifths that looked glued together, she soared in the shoulder lifts and floated in the fish dives. You couldn't help but smile at her supposed ease and the sheer pleasure she conveyed. in his variation Davit Karapetyan looked rushed a couple of times. As partner he was everything a ballerina might want, secure, strong and solicitous.
A musically refined Sofiane Sylve danced the Sugar Plum Fair with appropriate kindness, hovering over all that flora and fauna. But, probably, it's not a role in which she would have cast herself. Other fine performances came from Dores André in Spanish; she is a dancer with hot feet and an eloquent cambré. She also made the most from her tiny part as one of the maids. Once in a while something in a dancer catches your eye. It could be personality, presence or a particular technical facility that makes you wonder how he or she will develop. André is one of them. Dana Genshaft, dainty yet sultry with a touch of humor to the Arabian, was a pleasure as was Daniel Deivison who burst out of the Fabergé egg with a grin on his face that only got bigger as he threw himself into those Hopak squats and splits in the air. Here was a performer who enjoyed himself even more than we did watching him.