I nearly broke my elbow Friday night. I?d recently polished my hardwood floors, and I came home so excited by the new San Francisco Ballet ?Nutcracker? that I started slipping and sliding around and then decided to get a running start and then . . . whump! In case that testimonial is too wacky for you, check out my review in the San Francisco Chronicle, in which I can barely contain my enthusiasm:
“Waiting for San Francisco Ballet’s new “Nutcracker” was a lot like staring at that gold-trimmed box under the Christmas tree.
After four years of promises for a new production, with a much touted $3. 5 million budget, could this glittering package live up to all our hopes?
The wrapping finally came off SFB’s most ambitious “Nutcracker” ever Friday at the War Memorial Opera House, and the well-heeled gala crowd released a chorus of gasps. Artistic director Helgi Tomasson has delivered a spectacle to make even cynical adults gape like kids on Christmas morning.
Perhaps it’s only fitting that SFB should now have one of the most sumptuous “Nutcrackers” in the world. The company gave the first American performance of the full ballet in 1944, with four updates following since.
Ballet fans accustomed to the wilting 1986 incarnation supervised by Tomasson shortly after he took the SFB helm might find themselves in pleasant shock. Designer Jose Varona’s garish Willy Wonka-esque realm has been replaced by a glowing Edwardian fantasy. Or rather an Edwardian fantasy as dreamt by an adolescent girl circa 1915.”
I returned for the matinee the very next day in order to get a second look at the choreography and a first look at Nutnaree Pipit-Suksun, the Thai Royal Ballet School grad hired straight in as a soloist. The opera house was filled to the brim with spit-shined children, quite a contrast to all the patrons in evening gowns the other night, but all the better to test whether this ?Nutcracker?s? interest held up. (Another side benefit: it brought back vivid memories of my mother driving me from barren Fresno to see real ballet once a year.) The mice battle brought lots of fear-fueled tears, a good sign of sorts. The choreography I had a slightly dampened reaction to, and wished I had mentioned some of the charms of the old Lew Christensen choreography and tempered my giddiness just a tad. But for the most part it held up.
As for Nutnaree, it was hard to get a read. She?s medium-tall, wonderfully healthy of leg and limb, and an impressively plumb turner. She?s got all the chops, but stage presence flickered then dimmed. Maybe she found the kiddie crowd less than inspiring. Whatever the case, more viewings are needed for a verdict. Steven Legate partnered her ably. Vanessa Zahorian flitted through Sugar Plum?s part with ease. Joan Boada as the Nutcracker Prince brought into relief just how light, wonder-filled, and starry-eyed Gonzalo Garcia?s portrayal was. Kristin Long had a strange turning flub in the Grand Pas de Deux, then recovered with determination to whip through the rest with utter security.
For other takes on the new ?Nutcracker,? check out Allan Ulrich, Mary Ellen Hunt, Paul Parish, and Ann Murphy.