Dance in America: San Francisco Ballet's The Nutcracker

Dance in America: San Francisco Ballet's The Nutcracker

Fri, 12/25/2009 - 10:00am

Pictured: Yuan Yuan Tan is the Snow Queen in this Dance in America production of the beloved Tchaikovsky ballet.

Photo Credit: Chris Hardy

San Francisco Ballet makes the beloved Nutcracker its own.

Set during the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exhibition and introducing Dance in America viewers to the dazzling Maria Kochetkova and Davit Karapetyan, San Francisco Ballet makes the beloved Nutcracker its own. The work is choreographed by artistic director Helgi Tomasson and features sets and costumes by, respectively, Michael Yeargan and Martin Pakledinaz, both repeat Tony Award-winning designers. “Striking, elegant and beautiful,” assessed The New York Times.

Introduced by Olympic champion figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi, a native of the Bay Area and winner of “Dancing with the Stars,” Dance in Amercia: San Francisco Ballet's The Nutcracker airs Monday, December 21 at 9 p.m., and Friday, December 25 at 10 a.m. on WXXI-TV (DT21.1/cable1011/cable11). San Francisco Ballet music director and principal conductor Martin West conducts Tchaikovsky’s sprightly score.

“I have grown up with this wonderful company,” says Yamaguchi. “It was with them that my mom, Carole, took me to my first Nutcracker. Pretty impressive for a little girl, with all that magic and sparkle, thrilling music and those costumes! I think that’s when I fell in love with performing. Next year, I’ll be taking my little girls, five and three, to their first production.”

In addition to the Russian-trained Kochetkova as the adult Clara and the athletic yet lyrical Armenian-born Karapetyan as her cavalier prince, the large cast includes Damian Smith as Uncle Drosselmeyer and Pierre-François Vilanoba and Yuan Yuan Tan as the Snow King and Snow Queen. Vanessa Zahorian is the Sugar Plum Fairy. Dance in America viewers will remember Yuan Yuan Tan for her stunning portrayal of Desdemona in Lar Lubovitch’s Othello from San Francisco Ballet (2002).

The Nutcracker, which was first performed in Russia in 1892, holds a special significance for San Francisco Ballet, America’s oldest professional ballet company. The ballet had its U.S. premiere there in 1944.

Tchaikovsky’s beguiling score is one of the most popular pieces of music ever written. Think “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” and “Waltz of the Snowflakes.” Inspired by E.T.A. Hoffman’s 1816 story, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, it was first proposed to Tchaikovsky by legendary choreographer Marius Petipa as a follow-up to Tchaikovsky’s other successful ballets at Russia’s famed Mariinsky Theatre: Swan Lake (1877) and The Sleeping Beauty (1890). The composer began work on it in 1891.

The work premiered at the Mariinsky in December of the following year, with choreography by Lev Ivanov, taking over for an indisposed Petipa. The ballet completed a double bill, appearing with Tchaikovsky’s opera Iolanta. Reviews were disappointing for both. While Tchaikovsky thought much of Iolanta, he felt the ballet score was not among his best work. Some 115 years, countless performances and myriad LPs and CDs later, many would disagree.