Your Ultimate Guide to Nutcracker

What Is It? The quintessential holiday classic, Nutcracker is the first thing most people think about when they think about ballet. And with good reason: ever since its first performance in the United States (right here in SF in 1944!), it’s been the most performed ballet in the country. The ballet about Clara, the Sugar Plum Fairy, and the valiant Nutcracker Prince is a beloved American holiday tradition.
In Short: It’s Nutcracker.
Who It’s For: Everyone. Literally everyone.
What Will I See? So the story begins a long time ago but not very far away…

PROLOGUE: DROSSELMEYER’S TOY SHOP

Rubén Martín Cintas in Tomasson’s Nutcracker // © Erik Tomasson


The Plot: The ballet opens in San Francisco on a foggy Christmas Eve in 1915. We meet Drosselmeyer a (magical) toy- and clockmaker who’s doing a pretty good business for 5 pm on Christmas Eve.
What Should I Look For? Look for typical SF architecture (there are 100 Victorian painted windows on the painted ladies) and the interactions between passersby in the 1915 street scene.


ACT 1, SCENE 1: THE STAHLBAUM HOME

San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson’s Nutcracker // © Erik Tomasson

The Plot: A holiday party is about to start, hosted by the Stahlbaum family: Dr. and Mrs. Stahlbaum, their son, Fritz, and their daughter, Clara. After lighting the tree (with electric lights, a novelty in 1915), the children and adults dance, then pass around gifts. Clara is invited by her father to dance with the grown-ups for the first time. Drosselmeyer shows up—he’s not just a toymaker, but also Clara’s godfather. He puts on a magic show for the kids, complete with dancing dolls, after which he gives Clara a nutcracker doll. She’s thrilled by this odd little man-doll and dances around the room with it until her kid brother grabs it and breaks it. Uncle Dross manages to “heal” the toy by tying a handkerchief around it and gives it back to Clara. Eventually, it gets late and everyone heads home.
What Should I Look For? Watch the gifts the children receive—some of the toys and gifts will reappear (much larger) later in the ballet. And note the moment when Clara joins the parents’ dance: this is a sign that she’s growing up, a theme that will be explored throughout the rest of the ballet.


ACT 1, SCENE 2: THE BATTLE SCENE

San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson’s Nutcracker // © Erik Tomasson

The Plot: Clara can’t sleep without her nutcracker, so she leaves the comfort of her own bed to visit the darkened living room. She falls asleep holding her nutcracker on the couch and dreams about the toys from the party. Uncle Dross appears and (truly) mends the nutcracker. Clara awakens (within her dream) and realizes her whole house is growing around her. The Nutcracker comes to life to defend Clara against a herd of now-giant mice. He summons an army of toy soldiers and a battle ensues. Clara realizes that if the mice are giant, the mouse trap probably is too, and comes to the Nutcracker’s aid. But slightly too late. The Nutcracker collapses. Clara begs Uncle Drosselmeyer for help, and he transforms the fallen Nutcracker into a Prince.
What Should I Look for? The tree. Choreographer George Balanchine said that Nutcracker is really all about the tree, and it is a spectacular moment. Also, the King of the Mice has furry legs, a swagger, and a flair for the dramatic.


ACT I, SCENE 3: THE SNOW SCENE

San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson’s Nutcracker // © Erik Tomasson

The Plot: The Prince is grateful for Clara’s help and offers to take her on an adventure. First, they travel through the Land of Snow, where they’re greeted and then sent on their way by the King and Queen of the snow.
What Should I Look For? The snow! SF Ballet’s Nutcracker has an incredible amount of snow dropped on stage, and yes, it’s an extra challenge to dance in. But also look for the ways the steps themselves and the dancers’ formations on stage resemble snowflakes. This is the first time we get to see the full corps de ballet dance, and it’s an opportunity to really see what SF Ballet’s dancers are able to do.


ACT II: THE CRYSTAL PALACE

San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson’s Nutcracker // © Erik Tomasson

The Plot: The Prince and Clara arrive at the Crystal Palace—which looks quite a bit like San Francisco’s Conservatory of Flowers—and are greeted by the Sugar Plum Fairy. (Ever wondered what a sugar plum actually is? It’s a round piece of hard candy.) The Prince recounts his tale in mime and the Sugar Plum Fairy commands all her subjects to dance, including visitors from Arabia, France, China, Russia, and Spain, and a waltzing garden of flowers. Then Drosselmeyer and the Sugar Plum Fairy transform Clara into a (grown-up) ballerina, so she can dance with her Prince.

And then Clara wakes up, back at home on the couch. It’s Christmas morning, and she runs back up the stairs, into the waiting arms of her mother. The end!
What Should I Look For? So much dancing! In SF Ballet’s version, the Sugar Plum Fairy dances in the Waltz of the Flowers. Her movement is joyous, crisp, and intricate, like a piece of sugar candy. And look for the grand pas de deux, performed by a grown-up Clara and her Prince. They’ll dance together, then separately (listen for the iconic celeste music in Clara’s solo!), and then together again. They should be stately, regal, and just a touch melancholic. Growing up is bittersweet, after all.
 

Purchase your Nutcracker tickets today

 

Header Image: San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson’s Nutcracker // © Erik Tomasson

At the Crossroads of Movement and Music

By Hannah Young

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After decades of use, it’s time to replace our Opera House piano—can you help SF Ballet raise funds for a new piano for class and rehearsals in the Opera House?

Exquisite partnering characterizes some of ballet’s most memorable moments—and not just between dancers. There is magic between a mover and musician, too. Dancing to live music in daily class and rehearsal is indispensable to SF Ballet Company members, to ensure they’re prepared to respond the most musically, and with the most nuance and grace, to the SF Ballet Orchestra in performance. The Opera House piano guides dancers through the last steps of the rehearsal process before they hit the stage.

Both the musicians and dancers of SF Ballet recognize the electric quality that emerges when they work together to create art: “[it’s] a collaboration between the dancer and musician, a physical response in real time,” explains SF Ballet Soloist Julie Rowe. Music Director and Principal Conductor Martin West says that live music is crucial, and that the collaboration builds “an incredible energy when dancers react to live music, unlike anything created when dancers dance to recorded music.” SF

SF Ballet and Orchestra performing Tomasson’s The Sleeping Beauty // © Chris Hardy

Like ballet technique, dancing to live music improves with regular practice. Having a piano accompanist with ballet class is “fundamental and necessary,” says Rowe, because “the teacher gives us the steps, [while] the music shows us how to do them in space and time.” West adds, “the dancers need live music in rehearsal is so that they can practice being engaged with music. It’s part of the process of getting everybody ready for performing.” Working with live music in every rehearsal can inspire a deeper level of artistry and engagement. “Dancing to live music makes us better dancers because it forces us to create in real time,” says Rowe, “inspiring integral and honest interpretation.”

SF Ballet dancers taking class on stage // © Chris Hardy

We need your help to keep the music playing onstage—please make a donation and help us buy a new piano.


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Header image: Julia Rowe and Myles Thatcher rehearsing Lopez Ochoa’s Guernica // © Erik Tomasson

Arthur Pita on Creating Björk Ballet

In his Björk Ballet, Arthur Pita channels the magic and mischief of pop singer Björk’s music. It’s a crazy glamorous ballet that The Guardian called “a ridiculous amount of fun.” Here Pita talks about the creation of this work for SF Ballet’s Unbound Festival. Bjork Ballet returns in SF Ballet’s 2019 Season as part of Space Between, which runs from March 29–April 9.

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Header photo: Elizabeth Powell and Sarah Van Patten in Pita’s Björk Ballet // © Erik Tomasson

Instant Expert: Arranging Music for Ballet


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Which came first: the ballet or the score? Like the chicken and the egg, this question may be more complicated than it seems. For some ballet choreographers, the answer is the score: their process begins with the music and they choreograph to the music as it is written. But for others, the answer is the ballet—or, at least, an idea of a ballet. In this case, the music, either preexisting or created for dance, must be adapted and changed to suit the choreographer’s idea.

Program 03, entitled In Space and Time, features three ballets with three scores that have been expressly arranged for dance, but each in a different way. For The Fifth Season, SF Ballet Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson wanted to use Karl Jenkins’ String Quartet No. 2. However, he knew he wanted six sections in his ballet, and it only had five. So Tomasson added in a section from another piece Jenkins wrote.

In Snowblind, choreographer Cathy Marston wanted to create a soundscape that matched the story she had to tell about New England in the early 1900s. She worked with composer Philip Feeney to select music by Amy Beach and Arthur Foote—composers working in Boston during the period—as well as Arvo Pärt. Feeney arranged those scores together, and added in some music of his own.

Finally, for Etudes, the inspiration actually came from the arranger: Knudåge Riisager, a Danish composer, had the idea to orchestrate a series of Carl Czerny piano etudes for full orchestra and choreographer Harald Lander ran with the idea, creating this iconic ballet.


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Header Image: Sarah Van Patten and Tiit Helimets in Tomasson’s The Fifth Season // © Erik Tomasson

Your Ultimate Guide to Nutcracker

What Is It? The quintessential holiday classic, Nutcracker is the first thing most people think about when they think about ballet. And with good reason: ever since its first performance in the United States (right here in SF in 1944!), it’s been the most performed ballet in the country. The ballet about Clara, the Sugar Plum Fairy, and the valiant Nutcracker Prince is a beloved American holiday tradition.

In Short: It’s Nutcracker.

Who It’s For: Everyone. Literally everyone.

What Will I See? So the story begins a long time ago but not very far away…

PROLOGUE: DROSSELMEYER’S TOY SHOP

Rubén Martín Cintas in Tomasson’s Nutcracker // © Erik Tomasson

The Plot: The ballet opens in San Francisco on a foggy Christmas Eve in 1915. We meet Drosselmeyer a (magical) toy- and clockmaker who’s doing a pretty good business for 5 pm on Christmas Eve.

What Should I Look For? Look for typical SF architecture (there are 100 Victorian painted windows on the painted ladies) and the interactions between passersby in the 1915 street scene.


ACT 1, SCENE 1: THE STAHLBAUM HOME

San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson’s Nutcracker // © Erik Tomasson

The Plot: A holiday party is about to start, hosted by the Stahlbaum family: Dr. and Mrs. Stahlbaum, their son, Fritz, and their daughter, Clara. After lighting the tree (with electric lights, a novelty in 1915), the children and adults dance, then pass around gifts. Clara is invited by her father to dance with the grown-ups for the first time. Drosselmeyer shows up—he’s not just a toymaker, but also Clara’s godfather. He puts on a magic show for the kids, complete with dancing dolls, after which he gives Clara a nutcracker doll. She’s thrilled by this odd little man-doll and dances around the room with it until her kid brother grabs it and breaks it. Uncle Dross manages to “heal” the toy by tying a handkerchief around it and gives it back to Clara. Eventually, it gets late and everyone heads home.

What Should I Look For? Watch the gifts the children receive—some of the toys and gifts will reappear (much larger) later in the ballet. And note the moment when Clara joins the parents’ dance: this is a sign that she’s growing up, a theme that will be explored throughout the rest of the ballet.


ACT 1, SCENE 2: THE BATTLE SCENE

San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson’s Nutcracker // © Erik Tomasson

The Plot: Clara can’t sleep without her nutcracker, so she leaves the comfort of her own bed to visit the darkened living room. She falls asleep holding her nutcracker on the couch and dreams about the toys from the party. Uncle Dross appears and (truly) mends the nutcracker. Clara awakens (within her dream) and realizes her whole house is growing around her. The Nutcracker comes to life to defend Clara against a herd of now-giant mice. He summons an army of toy soldiers and a battle ensues. Clara realizes that if the mice are giant, the mouse trap probably is too, and comes to the Nutcracker’s aid. But slightly too late. The Nutcracker collapses. Clara begs Uncle Drosselmeyer for help, and he transforms the fallen Nutcracker into a Prince.

What Should I Look for? The tree. Choreographer George Balanchine said that Nutcracker is really all about the tree, and it is a spectacular moment. Also, the King of the Mice has furry legs, a swagger, and a flair for the dramatic.


ACT I, SCENE 3: THE SNOW SCENE

San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson’s Nutcracker // © Erik Tomasson

The Plot: The Prince is grateful for Clara’s help and offers to take her on an adventure. First, they travel through the Land of Snow, where they’re greeted and then sent on their way by the King and Queen of the snow.

What Should I Look For? The snow! SF Ballet’s Nutcracker has an incredible amount of snow dropped on stage, and yes, it’s an extra challenge to dance in. But also look for the ways the steps themselves and the dancers’ formations on stage resemble snowflakes. This is the first time we get to see the full corps de ballet dance, and it’s an opportunity to really see what SF Ballet’s dancers are able to do.


ACT II: THE CRYSTAL PALACE

San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson’s Nutcracker // © Erik Tomasson

The Plot: The Prince and Clara arrive at the Crystal Palace—which looks quite a bit like San Francisco’s Conservatory of Flowers—and are greeted by the Sugar Plum Fairy. (Ever wondered what a sugar plum actually is? It’s a round piece of hard candy.) The Prince recounts his tale in mime and the Sugar Plum Fairy commands all her subjects to dance, including visitors from Arabia, France, China, Russia, and Spain, and a waltzing garden of flowers. Then Drosselmeyer and the Sugar Plum Fairy transform Clara into a (grown-up) ballerina, so she can dance with her Prince.

And then Clara wakes up, back at home on the couch. It’s Christmas morning, and she runs back up the stairs, into the waiting arms of her mother. The end!

What Should I Look For? So much dancing! In SF Ballet’s version, the Sugar Plum Fairy dances in the Waltz of the Flowers. Her movement is joyous, crisp, and intricate, like a piece of sugar candy. And look for the grand pas de deux, performed by a grown-up Clara and her Prince. They’ll dance together, then separately (listen for the iconic celeste music in Clara’s solo!), and then together again. They should be stately, regal, and just a touch melancholic. Growing up is bittersweet, after all.

 

Purchase your Nutcracker tickets today