San Francisco Ballet rings in the festive season this weekend with its unique production of Helgi Tomasson’s The Nutcracker. This staging belongs very much to San Francisco, since it was inspired by the Panama-Pacific International Exposition held in the City in 1915, an event designed to demonstrate San Francisco’s recovery from the devastation of the 1906 earthquake, and to highlight its potential as a center for international trade.
Thus, when Tomasson created his interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s much-loved ballet 11 years ago, he set it against a backdrop of San Francisco, and included in the scenario some of the City’s major attractions. The Christmas Eve party in the home of the Stahlbaums, for example, takes place in one of the beautiful Victorian houses of the Pacific Heights area, where Clara is given a the Nutcracker doll by ‘Uncle Drosselmeyer’, and where her vivid dream of the battle between an army of invading mice and the soldiers commanded by the Nutcracker is played out, followed by his transformation into a handsome Prince.
Setting out on their magical sleigh-ride, Clara’s dream continues as she and the Prince arrive first in the Land of Snow, where they’re greeted by a host of shimmering and swirling snowflakes. From there they travel to the realm of the Sugar Plum Fairy, a setting inspired by the magnificent Victorian-era glass greenhouse at San Francisco’s Conservatory of Flowers, inhabited by dragonflies, butterflies and ladybugs.
There, the Sugar Plum Fairy presides over a colorful and spectacular festival of dance reflecting the nationalities of some of the 21 foreign pavilions which were constructed for the 1915 Exposition – Spain, Arabia, China, France and Russia – ending with the lovely Waltz of the Flowers.
For a ballet which had a rather inauspicious premiere at the Mariinsky theatre in St Petersburg in December 1892, The Nutcracker is probably one of the most performed ballets in the world today, with a score which must rank among Tchaikovsky’s finest. The first production of The Nutcracker outside Russia was staged by Ninette de Valois for The Royal Ballet in 1934, the Ballet Russe de Monte-Carlo presented a shorter version in 1940, and in 1944, the San Francisco Ballet production was the first by an American company. George Balanchine’s version for New York City Ballet was staged 10 years later.
San Francisco Ballet’s production of Helgi Tomasson’s The Nutcracker opens at the War Memorial Opera House on December 10, and runs until December 29. For further information and tickets, visit www.sfballet.org.