‘Nutcracker’ ballet stuns after 75 years in San Francisco

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Did you know that the first-ever “Nutcracker” ballet in the United States took place in San Francisco? In 1944, the War Memorial Opera House hosted the first-ever American production of this now-classic Christmas production. Last month, San Francisco Ballet performed “Nutcracker” for the 75th season, and the wonder, enchantment and beauty have only ripened with age. 

Set in San Francisco, the show opened with a vintage slideshow of old photos of San Francisco streets. People were shown going about their regular days, but as the screen raised, audience members were taken inside the snow-covered world of Clara and Uncle Drosselmeyer. In the audience, 25 ballerinas who formerly played the role of Clara over the past decades wore special sashes in honor of their dedication to the production — young and old, the pride for this show ran wholeheartedly throughout the theater. 

A bright holiday palette greeted viewers’ eyes as Christmas decorations trimmed every edge of the stage. Sophisticated costumes appeared on every dancer, looking antiquated in style but crisp and fresh in presentation. The crowd filled with applause as Clara, played by Abby Cannon, entered the stage. Circles of children in the dozen pranced and tip-toed across the stage, for while many of the dancers in “Nutcracker” were adults, the children in this show shone as their impressive ballet skills seemed to exceed their ages. 

Even though ballet productions do not traditionally feature spoken dialogue, the pantomime work of the dancers was clear and helped audience members follow the fever dream story. Much of the show did not chase a simple narrative path — some scenes felt disjointed as we followed Clara through her dreamscape — but it seemed as though the plot didn’t matter too much for this ballet. For “Nutcracker,” the dazzling spectacle and expert dancing are what have been keeping lovers of the arts coming back year after year.  

The detailing on each costume was immaculate. Series of toys danced onto the stage as dolls and nutcrackers, surely raising questions throughout the crowd on how the dancers were able to move so fluidly in such constricting attire. Each dancer brought their own flair to their roles, but the dancing dolls — played by Max Cauthorn, Lauren Parrott and Hansuke Yamamoto — were especially rigid to perfectly fit the part. 

The Nutcracker Prince, played by Luke Ingham, appeared in a detailed, mascot-like costume. While the garments were fashionable, the choreography could have been more elaborate given the character’s significance to the story. This costume seemed to be more constricting than the others because of its weight, but a less elaborate costume may have served more elaborate dancing much better.   

Set designs throughout the show were bright and fitting for the flight of fantasy. Even outside the theater, fake snow fell from the second floor as patrons entered on the chilly evening. For much of the stage inside, it was a mystery how every part moved and fit together so smoothly — even when Clara was shrunk by magic, the backgrounds served to create their own universes for viewers to follow along. During a duet between the Snow Queen and Snow King, played by Yuan Yuan Tan and Carlo Di Lanno, pristine snow fell onto every foot of the stage. The snow fell quicker and quicker, almost to the point of overdoing it. This was the only part that distracted from the performance, but regardless, the holiday spirit was alive and chilly. 

And after all, the opening curtain of the show read “Compliments of the Season.” People come from all over the Bay Area and farther to witness the beauty that is “Nutcracker” every holiday season — the immaculate production quality and cozy theater atmosphere add just a little bit more delicacy and class to Christmas. 

Skylar De Paul is the deputy arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected]. Tweet her at @skylardepaul.