San Francisco Ballet
War Memorial House
San Francisco, CA
December 11, 2013"
by Rita Felciano
Copyright © Rita Felciano, 2013
In its tenth year, Helgi Tomasson's "Nutcracker" has acquired a burnt gold sheen which warms a production that initially looked overly cool. The parts have melded into a convincing whole that made watching this particular return just about pure pleasure. All of it happened without relinquishing the reserve and elegance that characterize Tomasson's approach to this story about family, love and growing up. Even the scenery -- Edwardian and solid in the first act, luminous and spare in the second -- appeared to dance. After intermission James Ingalls' luminous and transparent lighting brought the spare prop-like sets to life. The stage looked as if kissed by the fog. Major credit also belongs to Martin West's calm, unhurried, yet never sluggish interpretation, particularly in which he teased out Tchaikovsky's brilliant orchestration. No wonder that in the opening scene, Rubén Martin Cintas, in his first Drosselmeyer, responded so strongly to the music's sweep.
Clara Blanco has finally been liberated from the Doll variation. Corps member Elizabeth Powell, still girlish but with nice staccato pacing, however, has not yet fully realized the automaton part of the role. The battle between the semi-disciplined toy soldiers and the unruly mice was something of a brawl; it short-circuited the build up to the climax when Juliet Doherty's Clara's coaxed Sean Orza's King into that fatal mousetrap.
In their first Queen and King of the Snow together, Frances Chung and Jaime Garcia Castilla were excellently partnered even though Garcia Castilla, with his eternally boyish look, is still very much the junior member of the team. Whether traveling side-by-side or with overhead lifts, the two of them danced as if having come out of one mold. The clarity Chung brought even to her speediest phrasing was a marvel to behold.The Snowflakes choreography still disappears in what is a lot more than a winter wonderland. However, to have the dancers surge out of this storm and slide into cheesy picture postcard poses served as a witty reminder that Tomasson took his inspiration from the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition.
Tomasson's post-intermission choreography for the children from the Ballet School as butterflies, ladybugs and dragonflies was nicely varied but kids can be terminally cute. However, Ingall's bathing the scene in predawn and early morning light created pure magic. Later, he placed the gold-encrusted Grand Pas De Deux into a deep midnight blue, thus completing a day's passing.
Staring straight at us, Dores André danced her first Arabian -- she was a housemaid in the premiere -- with sultry, insouciant presence. In his first, Wei Wang had both speed and elevation in the Chinese variation though he didn't quite hold the trajectory together. The choreography for the French, a trio of ribbon dance whirling cancan girls, remains uninspired. However, once more, Benjamin Stewart expertly took on the role of the roly-poly dancing bear; once again, he charmed the audience.
The Waltzing Flowers are severely handicapped by those knee length, petal-flopping frocks which keep bobbing and undercutting whatever flow Tomasson intended in his take on the waltz. Too often the stage looked barren instead of billowing with soaring dancers. Vanessa Zahorian, masterfully languid in her épaulement and crystalline in the pacing of her turns, was a commanding but ever so gracious Sugar Plum Fairy. She appear an alien visitor to instead of the fauna's living force.
Joan Boada gave this "Nutcracker's" outstanding performance. Always a technically strong performer with a floating quality to his elevations, he is not always the most role-invested dancer. His Nutcracker Prince, however, was pure delight. Having turned into the Prince, he moved with a colt's exuberance both leaping and jetéing. Still, he became utterly attentive to Clara. In the Grand Pas de Deux, he handled the multiple shoulder lifts and fish dives with the outmost confidence, partnering Maria Kotchekova with uncommon grace. The two of them together were truly grand.