A Tutu Fit for a Snow Queen

Every queen needs a fabulous ensemble! Our Snow Queen’s embellished tutu is a showstopper; its layers of fabric and uniquely shaped overlay took 80 hours to make. And we have five of them! That’s a total of 400 hours spent creating one character’s costume. 

San Francisco’s first Nutcracker in 1944 was staged on a tight wartime budget that allowed just $1,000 for ALL of the costumes. The Snow Queen, Jocelyn Vollmar, made her costume herself!

Yuan Yuan Tan in Tomasson's Nutcracker. (© Erik Tomasson)
Yuan Yuan Tan in Tomasson’s Nutcracker // © Erik Tomasson

Want another peek behind the curtain at the making of Nutcracker?


Making the Nutcracker Snow Scene


Nutcracker By the Numbers


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Header Image: Jennifer Stahl in Tomasson’s Nutcracker // © 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

 

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

America’s First Snow Queen

Today, the beauty of the Snow Queen, Snow King, and snowflakes dancing amid swirls of falling flurries is a beloved (and much anticipated) moment in Nutcracker. In 1944, when San Francisco Ballet premiered the complete Nutcracker, there was just dancing—Jocelyn Vollmar as the Snow Queen, dancing with Joaquin Felsch and 16 corps de ballet members carrying wands. Even so, the audience was in awe. Although she went on to a long and illustrious career in dance, Jocelyn Vollmar is fondly remembered for her role as America’s first Snow Queen.

Jocelyn Vollmar and and members of San Francisco Ballet performing in Willam Christensen’s “Nutcracker,” 1944. (© San Francisco Ballet. Photo courtesy SFMPD.)

Jocelyn Vollmar was born in San Francisco on November 25, 1925. She studied at San Francisco Ballet School with Willam Christensen and performed as a student in America’s first full-length production of Swan Lake as well as the first 20th-century American Coppélia. She joined SF Ballet at the age of 17.

In 1944, Willam Christensen created America’s first full-length Nutcracker for San Francisco Ballet. He told Vollmar on her 19th birthday that she would be cast as the Snow Queen. Christensen’s new Nutcracker featured costumes by dancer Russell Hartley and sets by artist Antonio Sotomayor. Due to wartime restrictions, Vollmar and fellow dancer Gisella Caccialanza Christensen—cast as the Sugar Plum Fairy—had to source the material for their tutus and tights themselves. The production was a success, paving the way for the many productions scattered across the U.S. each December.

Jocelyn Vollmar and Roderick Drew as Queen and King of the Snow in Lew Christensen’s 1954 Nutcracker in 1958. (© San Francisco Ballet. Photo courtesy SFMPD.)

Vollmar’s career flourished as well. After performing with the New York City Ballet, Ballet Theatre (now American Ballet Theatre), Grand Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas in Europe, and The Australian Ballet, Vollmar returned to SF Ballet in 1956. She went on to train generations of dancers—including a few that would grow up to be Snow Queens themselves—as a faculty member at SF Ballet School from 1985 to 2005. Vollmar, who remained a beloved member of the San Francisco Ballet family throughout her life, passed away in 2018 at the age of 92.

Jocelyn Vollmar and WanTing Zhao in 2015
(© Chris Hardy)

Header image: Jocelyn Vollmar and WanTing Zhao in 2015 // © Chris Hardy

Baby, It’s Cold Inside! Making the Nutcracker Snow Scene

SF Ballet’s Nutcracker is known for the sheer amount of snow that falls during the Snow Scene—the final moments are a legitimate blizzard!

The snowflakes are made out of paper and are created by a giant hole puncher. During the performance, three long, narrow bags of 200 pounds of snow are suspended above the stage, hidden from the audience. Each bag is manipulated by two members of the stage crew who make the snow fall. During intermission, the fallen snow is swept and shoveled into large bins. It is sifted through to remove dirt, hairpins, sequins, and other debris and then reused at the next performance.

At intermission, the question on everyone’s lips seems to be: how do the snowflakes dance in all that snow?

So we asked two dancers, Principal Dancer Jennifer Stahl and Corps de Ballet member Ludmila Bizalion, how they navigate the snow scene. Stahl says that because it can get slippery, the dancers put rosin (a powdered form of tree resin) on their shoes to make them stickier. She also reports “little tricks like aiming towards the zones where less snow is dumped.” Bizalion says she tries to remember to breathe through her nose. It’s hard, she says, but by the end of the run, “we get used to it!”

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Header image: Kimberly Marie Olivier in Tomasson’s Nutcracker

Baby, It’s Cold Inside! Making the Nutcracker Snow Scene

SF Ballet’s Nutcracker is known for the sheer amount of snow that falls during the Snow Scene—it’s a legitimate blizzard!

The snowflakes are made out of paper and are created by a giant hole puncher. During the performance, three long, narrow bags of 200 pounds of snow are suspended above the stage, hidden from the audience. Each bag is manipulated by two members of the stage crew who make the snow fall. During intermission, the fallen snow is swept and shoveled into large bins. It is sifted through to remove dirt, hairpins, sequins, and other debris and then reused at the next performance.

At intermission, the question on everyone’s lips seems to be: how do the snowflakes dance in all that snow?

So we asked two dancers, Principal Dancer Jennifer Stahl and Corps de Ballet member Ludmila Bizalion, how they navigate the snow scene. Stahl says that because it can get slippery, the dancers put rosin (a powdered form of tree resin) on their shoes to make them stickier. She also reports “little tricks like aiming towards the zones where less snow is dumped.” Bizalion says she tries to remember to breathe through her nose. It’s hard, she says, but by the end of the run, “we get used to it!”

Top photo: Kimberly Marie Olivier in Tomasson’s Nutcracker

Purchase your Nutcracker tickets today

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

 

6 Surprising Nutcracker Stats (including the Heaviest Tutu)

In the Act I battle scene, the Stahlbaums’ fireplace (above, at right in the image) grows to 22 feet tall and 19 feet wide. For perspective, that’s the size of two San Francisco cable cars stacked on top of each other.

Val Caniparoli as Drosselmeyer in Tomasson’s Nutcracker // © Erik Tomasson

SF Ballet’s Nutcracker has more than 300 costumes—including three separate costumes for Uncle Drosselmeyer—for different casts.


The Christmas tree growing in SF Ballet’s Nutcracker // © Erik Tomasson

Drosselmeyer makes the Stahlbaums’ Christmas tree grow to a height of 30 feet in less than two minutes. It would take a real fir tree 15 to 20 years to grow as high.


Yuan Yuan Tan in Tomasson’s Nutcracker // © Erik Tomasson

The Snow Queen’s embellished tutu took 80 hours to make, and we have five.
That’s a total of 400 hours spent creating one character’s costume.


Francisco Mungamba in Tomasson’s Nutcracker // © Erik Tomasson

In Act II, the giant Fabergé eggs in the Russian dance are nine feet tall.
That’s 50 times larger than a real egg.

Lauren Parrott and Rubén Martín Cintas in Nutcracker // © Erik Tomasson

The ballerina doll in Act 1 has Nutcracker’s heaviest costume. Her tutu weighs 18 pounds!


 

Header photo: SF Ballet in Tomasson’s Nutcracker // © Erik Tomasson