The Nutcracker: A Twist on a Childhood Fairytale

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog about how my husband surprised me with tickets to go see the San Francisco Ballet perform their world-renowned The Nutcracker.  Although it has been a few weeks since we watched the spectacular performance, I cannot help but relive the breath-taking performance that we saw danced upon the stage of the ornate War Memorial Opera House.

Having performed in The Nutcracker multiple times myself, most recently with The Sacramento Ballet, I was intrigued to see how the SF Ballet would present such a classic story.  The ballet opened up with the classic scene of last minute shoppers bustling about foggy streets on a cold Christmas Eve.  Herr Drosselmeyer, an eccentric toy maker, puts finishing touches on a magical nutcracker before caravanning to the home of the Stahlbaum’s.  Choreography during this scene, as well as the following party scene, was almost identical to other companies presentations thereby offering familiarity.  Yet small changes to the choreography of the life-size dolls that are presented by Drosselymer during the party enhanced the believability of the story, drawing in the audience.

Moving into the scuffle between mice and the Nutcracker, one would have believed they were indeed transported to the base of a ginormous Christmas tree.  Mice poked their heads out from the presents and performed comical antics, provoking laughter from all the children in the audience.  Dramatic fighting shortly ensured, however, as the King Rat histrionically challenged the Nutcracker to a dual.  Aided by toy soldiers who marched out from a life-size Christmas present, the Nutcracker eventually overthrew the mighty mice – but only after a canon was fired and the Rat King’s tail was caught in a life-size mouse trap.

The Nutcracker is transformed into a handsome prince, who embarks with Clara through a wintery wonderland.  Typically, the Land of Snow scene is one of my least favorite sections of the ballet.  Yet, the SF Ballet performed an incredible, breath-taking and gorgeous rendition of dainty snowflakes falling from the sky.  The choreography, coupled with heavy paper snow which fell from the auditorium’s ceiling, was the most stellar I have ever seen, enrapturing me in an awe-inspiring spell.

Choreography in scene two was as equally wonderful.  Beautiful costumes, lively characters, energetic movements and boisterous music performed by the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra all contributed to the spectacular display of artistic flare.  Arabians withered their way out of a gigantic magic lamp, Russians popped out of canvas-covered , carriages and Madam Du Cirque revealed small circus children and a dancing bear.  The colorful yet elegant flower waltz – lead by the Sugar Plum Fairy – signaled the end of the celebratory festivities.  To end the evening, Clare was transformed into a princess to dance in the arms of her prince, who happened to be her Nutcracker.  I don’t think I enjoyed this ending to a classic story that I have grown to love so dearly.  Somehow the innocence and childlike wonder of the previous festivities seemed to disappear with the pas du deux of Clara and her prince.

Reading through the SF Ballet’s program, a fun fact drew my eyes.  The Company’s current production of The Nutcracker, featuring over 300 costumes, includes three sets of “Drosselmeyer” costumes for the different casts.  The Snow Queen’s tutu alone took 80 hours to make – and SF Ballet has created five sets total, equaling 400 hours on construction time on one character’s costume alone.

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Dancing In Christmas – Sugar Plums, Candy Canes & Prince Charming

A few weeks ago, my amazing husband surprised me with tickets to go see the San Francisco Ballet perform The Nutcracker in December. To say that I am ecstatically thrilled would be an understatement. Now that Thanksgiving is over, I have been playing The Nutcracker’s musical score in preparation for our trip.

It’s been almost three years since my husband and I have seen a ballet – or any musical/dance production, for that matter – together. So this is a wonderful ‘excuse’ to dress up and enjoy the fine arts together.

First presented at the Mayinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia, in December 1892, Russian composer, Peter Tchaikovsky, and mastermind choreographer, Marius Petipa, worked together to compose the infamous ballet which is based off of E.T.A. Hoffman’s tale “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.”

Interestingly enough, the first production of The Nutcracker was a failure with critics and audiences alike, although Czar Alexander III was delighted with it. However, the ballet gained popularity with future productions, particularly in the United States.

The first U.S. performance of The Nutcracker was by the San Francisco Opera Ballet in 1944. It is most fitting, then, that my husband and I will be enjoying this world-renowned ballet in the city that, in a way, helped popularize it to the acclaimed holiday tradition that is has become.