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San Francisco Ballet - 'Nutcracker'

Ninety mi-nut-es of holiday magic

by Becca Hirschman

December 18, 2007 -- War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco, CA

Sparkly fuschia-colored life-sized dolls, dancing snow, and squeals of tiny children's joy stir up memories of early dawn on Christmas morning, which is just what Helgi Tomasson's maturing "Nutcracker" aims to do at each and every performance. Tuesday night was no different, with tots dressed up in their best frocks and suits, sitting at the edge of their seats, and gaping at every turn and leap. "Mom! She just got so tiny!" exclaimed one little child behind me as the tree rose high above the stage. "Ooh! Snow fairies! Hee!" piped another as Snowflakes danced out of the wings. And if I had thought about it less, I probably would have giggled with glee right along with them!

Act I plopped us in the middle of 1915 San Francisco, and the character dancers, supers, and company dancers looked right at home. The party at the Stahlbaums' passed with ease--a group dance here, children running there, a graceful Jessica Cohen as Clara--and it all flowed quite well into the dancing dolls. Rory Hohenstein played the flexible and somewhat dopey harlequinand Clara Blanco, who's returned to SF Ballet after a one-year hiatus in England, shined as the spinning, flexed foot dancing doll. Katita Waldo heralded the stage as the Snow Queen and as her King, Hansuke Yamamoto displayed impressiveness in both his sissones and partnering. Lily Rogers stood out as a light-footed and stretchy snowflake, and Ashley Muangmaithong's smile carried all the way to the back of the Opera House.

In Act II, encircled by a buzz of butterflies and ladybugs early on and Waltzing Flowers toward the end, Elana Altman commanded as the Lilac Fairy and dazzled in the allegro, leaping high above the ground yet always with an air of calm around her. Adeline Kaiser slithered as the lead in Arabian, artfully partnered by David Arce and Aaron Orza, and James Sofranko along with Benjamin Stewart and Matthew Stewart kicked and spun with attack from the first moment they leapt out of the Faberge eggs. The best, though, was saved for last, when Frances Chung and Jaime Garcia Castilla (his debut in the role) performed the Grand Pas de Deux with electricity and finesse. Chung's piqués were soft yet forceful and she spun effortlessly through her fouetté turns. Castilla's chaîné-grand jetés reached forward past his finely pointed feet and stretched arms, covering every inch of the stage, and his artistry proved his "princeliness."

Martin West conducted the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, and its spirit proved merry, adding to a well rounded "Nutcracker" overall. But while I enjoyed this evening's onstage performance immensely, it was my neighboring children's intrigue and genuine appreciation for a classic story intertwined with all of the tricks, secrets, and magic that the theater holds so dear (and SF Ballet does so well) that reinforced that the holidays are a time of happiness, joy, and warmth.

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