San Francisco Ballet
War Memorial Opera House
San Francisco, CA
December 10, 2016
by Rita Felciano
copyright Rita Felciano © 2016
"The Nutcracker" still entrances -- toddlers, dating couples or first time viewers who will be hooked on ballet for the rest of their lives. Yet this is an art that goes back to an aristocratic refinement that most of us have never experienced. So what gives? Pulling us in is also a sense of family that may no longer, and sadly, may not ever have existed except in our wishful thinking. But the family that we witness on stage is a family, the family of a ballet company that off stage has all the tensions, complications, joys and heartaches that we have to deal with. But the ballet family also tells us how varied the talents, possibilities and limitations of real life families are. There is no ballet that has so many spots, both large and small, for so many dancers to show what they can do and where they may go and where they have been. So thank you Mr. Tchaikovsky who dared to defy the conventions of the time that "serious" composers did not write for ballet and took on a task that was less than appealing. So also thank you Mr. Petipa who here thought out of the box. And, of course, thank you Helgi Tomasson, who in this cool and refined version, avoided sentimentality and cuteness in favor of elegance, charm and a touch of history.
Photo: Lauren Parrot and Rubén Martín Cintas in Helgi Tomasson's "Nutcracker. Photo Credit: Erik Tomasson
Opening night went smoothly though the announcement that Carlos Quenedit had to replace Davit Karapetyan as the Nutcracker Prince elicited audible sighs which proved to have been justified. Quenedit is acrobatically trained -- strong legs that carry him aloft -- but he is not a refined dancer. His mime was big but needed to be more detailed, and in those shoulder lifts he partnered the splendidly regal Vanessa Zahorian with more effort than élan. Somebody who did use power effectively was Martín Rubén Cintas as Uncle Drosselmeyer. He was mysterious with the children, but In the transformation scene he seemed to physically grow, his powerful arm gestures willing in the scenery. For just a moment afterwards, he looked drained of his magic.
Mathilde Froustey, partnered by the gentlemanly Carlo Di Lanno, made her debut as the Queen of the Snow. As a pair, they were fast, precise and in tune with each other. Lovely to watch. In the air Froustey looked as light and delicate as the falling snow but in full control in every leap and turn. Tomasson's choreography continues to intrigue with the way he split and re-split the sixteen dancers into overlapping asymmetrical formations. The dancers honored the choreography.
I remember the family party from the premiere twelve years ago; it looked inordinately stiff. But today the Stahlbaums (Ricardo Bustamente and Jennifer Stahl) and their guests were at home in the mimed "conversations". Anna Javier gave a charming interpretation, not so much of Clara as a little girl, but a ballerina to be. The dolls leapt and rolled (Myles Thatcher), bourréd and balanced (Lauren Parrott) and soared up and sideways (Hansuke Yamamoto). The Mouse King (Alexander Reneff-Olson) delighted everyone by falling into the orchestra pit -- except for my six-year old granddaughter who worried that he might have hurt himself.
Sofiane Sylve's rock-certain Sugar Plum Fairy embraced her charges gently with just a mite of hauteur. But in the Waltz of Flower, surely not Tchaikovsky at his best, she kept her charges going to the plodding end. Photo op included. Maybe a change in costumes would help this waltzing marathon.
As we have come to expect, and still appreciate, Martin West conducted the Tchaikovsky with warmth and vigor; the second act divertissements sounded particularly alive.