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Excerpts of four reviews by Octavio Roca
of Oakland Ballet's Nutcracker

July 1, 2004

Monday Dec 11, 1995 SF Chronicle
It is, truth be told, a scaled-down version of what Tchaikovsky's holiday classic should be. There are gorgeous visions of lace and flowers and candy at the Paramount Theatre, and there are snowfalls. There is also wonderful playing by the Oakland East Bay Symphony under the baton of Jean-Louis LeRoux -- a match of music and dance that the Oakland Ballet and its audiences deserve to enjoy throughout the season. But more dancers are needed, along with a more uniformly schooled corps de ballet, to bring this gem of the classical repertory to life.

Often, the action is simply too small for the grand scale of the music. Yet the wonder of the Oakland production is the intelligence of the necessary choices: Guidi makes the piece work for his company, he makes the dancers look beautiful, and he lets the audience in on the fun.

If you look closely, there are also a few inside jokes. My favorite is a portrait of a smiling Guidi, as a 19th century nobleman, that hangs among the Drosselmeyer family pictures on Ron Steger's spectacular Act 1 set. The company's director and principal choreographer deserves that place of honor, along with the community's gratitude. There was a lot of joy on stage at the Paramount on Saturday, where "Nutcracker'' plays though Christmas Eve.

The Christmas party that opens the ballet is an intimate affair here -- and it works. Gone are the party guests, along with much of their music. But new and welcome are touches such as a humorous pas de trois for the children, a conspiratorial maid who joins the family at play and an expanded role for the mysterious Uncle Drosselmeyer.

The music, incidentally, is redistributed whimsically throughout -- even Tchaikovsky's own coda is reprised yet again as a pas de six for the fantasy couples of the Kingdom of Sweets. This last brings a final image of classical splendor to a production that is not long on classical virtues. It also makes clear what was unclear to this point -- that the whole of "Nutcracker'' is but a Christmas dream.

Monday, Dec 15, 1997, SF Chronicle
This "Nutcracker'' is a scaled-down version of -- what Tchaikovsky's holiday classic should be. More dancers are needed, along with a more uniformly schooled corps de ballet. Often the action is simply too small for both the grand scale of the music and splendor of the sets. Yet there is real charm here. Guidi never shies away from making his dancers look beautiful. The big, crowded Christmas party that opens most versions of "The Nutcracker'' -- from San Francisco Ballet's to the Mark Morris Dance Group's -- is a small family gathering at Oakland, where the kids take center stage. Gone are the party guests, along with much of their music. But new and welcome are touches such as a humorous pas de trois for the children, a conspiratorial maid who joins the family at play and an expanded role for the mysterious Uncle Drosselmeyer. The music is redistributed whimsically, but even this -- considering how often Tchaikovsky's score is heard every December -- comes off as a pleasant surprise.

Monday Dec 14, 1998, SF Chronicle
One thing that makes this "Nutcracker'' different, of course, is what an intimate affair much of it is. The story is still that of a little girl's dream on Christmas Eve, but Guidi has tailored the tale to an elegant fit on Oakland Ballet's resources. Gone is the crowded party that usually opens the ballet, gone are the party guests and much of their music. Instead there is a small family gathering where the kids take center stage: a humorous pas de trois for the siblings, more to do for Drosselmeyer's nephew, who will become the magical Nutcraker Prince in Marie's dream, a conspiratorial Maid and adoring parents whose wish for happiness is catchy.

Monday, Dec 13, 1999, SF Chronicle
It is, frankly, a scaled-down version of what Tchaikovsky's ballet should be. Newcomers to this "Nutcracker'' might be surprised by what is missing in Oakland: From the party guests in Act 1 and the denizens of the Kingdom of Sweets, to several pages of music and even the article in the ballet's title, this is not a complete "Nutcracker.''

And yet it works. There are ravishing visions of lace and flowers and candy at the Paramount Theatre, and there are snowfalls. There is also wonderful playing by the Oakland East Bay Symphony, under the baton of John Kendall Bailey -- on opening night -- a match of live music and dance that Oakland Ballet and its audiences deserve to enjoy throughout the season.

Of course more dancers are needed, and at times the action is simply too small for the grand scale of the music. Yet Guidi makes the ballet fit this company. And Schmalle, not least in the example of his own noble dancing as both Marie's father and the Sugar Plum Cavalier, leads an ensemble intent on bringing to life a touching story.

The Stahlbaums' Christmas Eve dinner is in this version an intimate family affair. Gone are many friends, along with much of their music. But there are new and welcome touches such as a humorous pas de trois for the children, a conspiratorial maid who joins the family at play and an expanded role for the mysterious Uncle Drosselmeyer -- played with ineffable warmth and impeccable narrative clarity by Howard Sayette.

...

The giggle factor is high in this witty production, with some clever inside jokes that work every time. My own favorite is a portrait of a smiling Guidi, as a 19th century nobleman, that hangs among the family pictures on the backdrop of Ron Steger's spectacular Act 1 set.

The company's founder and director emeritus deserves that place of honor in Oakland Ballet's "Nutcracker,'' along with the community's gratitude.


Edited by Mary Ellen Hunt

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