I saw the matinee performance yesterday. I don't claim to have the reviewers' skills of some other posters so will just put my impressions first of the ballet as a whole and second of some individual performers.
It's a small detail, but I liked the San Francisco slide show before the curtain opened. That set the time and place for the ballet. I thought the party moved more crisply than some I've seen. Anyone else know what I mean when I say some Nutcracker family parties seem to go on and on and on and on....
I also thought it was more unified in that Clara falls asleep with her nutcracker dolll and ends up at the end back on the same sofa, waking up. But a lot happened in between.
Snow scenery was lovely. Sergio Torrado and Sarah Van Patten were King and Queen of Snow (for some reason, every time I go to SFB the casting is different from the Web site!). I thought they matched up well. Torrado, when I saw him with Lorena Feijoo, was so much larger he overwhelmed her but Van Patten is taller. They were good, but since Sarah Van Patten has been heavily featured in promotions I expected them to be spectacular. I agree that she could use a bit more sparkle but overall it was still memorable. I liked the "bug scene" at the start of Act II as it gave SFB School students at several levels some serious dancing. Big improvements: the Chinese dance, for the first time, did not make me cringe and wince. The French/Mirliton/Shepherdess dance was a lot saucier than I've seen it before. With their turquoise tights, garters, fluffy skirts and headdresses the women fit in with the circus theme of Madame de Cirque, formerly known as Mother Ginger. The idea of Clara transformed into herself as an adult was also seen in the PNB Nutcracker Movie where the girl Clara sees the woman she will become, and that woman dances with the Nutcracker Prince. The only problem (not an issue this year but could be in future) is that girl and woman need to have at least a vague resemblance to one another. A tall brown haired girl can become a tall brown haired woman but an African-American girl will not become a Chinese woman! I hope it does not end up becoming limiting.
Places where choreography needs work: the dance of the flowers, not the solo which was great but the group dance. The dancers spent a lot of time standing around. The dance of the flowers has always been a favorite of mine, partially because it's the music I like best of the whole composition, and I hope the choreography improves. Also, while I'm glad to see the end of the tan bodices, a garden of nothing but marigolds is boring. Let's get some color variety! I also thought the women's solo in the grand PDD needed work. The choreography was unworthy of the skills of Muriel Maffre. I agree with those who say that the stage in Act II was too bare. Helgi Tomasson said he had the idea of Act II taking place in one of the glass pavilions of the Pan Pacific Expo, which is fine, but this is a girl's fantasy. Let's get some ribbons or flowers or other color.
Ballet is a living art and I expect to see some changes next season that will address these few weaknesses.
One thing that I thought of. When Act II took place in the Kingdom of Sweets, it is understandable that it was ruled by a Sugar Plum Fairy. I like the idea of Clara having a guide in Act II but why need she be a Sugar Plum Fairy? It no longer fits. I think something like a butterfly queen or hummingbird queen would be lovely and graceful and fit in with the garden theme. Not likely to happen, just my thought.
OK, some more impressions of individual dancers. Elizabeth Miner (Spanish) made me think of a paraphrase of an old commercial. "That's-a one spicy dancer!". I could not see facial expressions from where I sat, but the tilt of her head, her shoulder, how she held her skirt, everything was flirtatious. More than that, I found myself unable to tear my eyes off her to look at the other dancers on the stage in that variation. Hansuke Yamamato impressed me tremendously last year in the Russian variation and still does. To emerge from a cabinet as glorious Muriel Maffre and dance with the handsome Pierre-Francois Villanoba, what more could a girl want? As usual a stellar performance from those two.
But if anyone stole the show it was Frances Chung as the Sugar Plum Fairy. I could applaud quite sincerely and enthusiastically the grand PDD, the Snow King and Queen and others but Frances Chung made me want to leap out of my seat and cheer. Drifting along the stage among insects and flowers, she was absolutely sparkling. She looked great in Stern Grove but yesterday she was magnificent, I really have no words for it. It is no longer a question of potential with her but rather whether this year will bring the promotion she is so clearly ready for.
Overall I think Tomasson did a good job of updating the ballet while keeping the essential story line. I like a 13 year old Clara, the idea is that she's young enough to fall in love with a doll and old enough to want to dance with a boy.
Finally a comment: Parents, by all means introduce your children to ballet, but please, oh please, be sure they are old enough to sit through it first. And if they get whiny and start crying, for G-d's sake take them outside, OK?
Oh yeah, the only umbrella I own is an Oakland A's umbrella I got as a souvenir at a baseball game. Apparently I was not the only A's fan there because a man said "I like your umbrella, especially in the City." Of course, that's why I brought it. Well, that and the fact that it was raining cats and dogs....