Ultimate Guide to Wheeldon’s Cinderella

Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella* will be part of SF Ballet’s 2020 Season, with performances Jan 21–Feb 2.

By Jennie Scholick, PhD

What is it? A familiar fairy tale with a few charming twists. Created by choreographer Christopher Wheeldon of An American in Paris fame in 2012 to music by Sergei Prokofiev, this ballet leaves behind the fairy godmothers and talking mice in favor of a delightfully human story full of fabulous visual effects. With fantastic sets and costumes by Julian Crouch, magical projections by Daniel Brodie, and breathtaking puppetry designed by MacArthur Foundation Fellow Basil Twist to put a new “twist” on an old tale, Wheeldon updates this timeless tale for modern audiences of every age

In short: A spunky heroine. A noble prince. Blended families of the evil and not-so-evil persuasion. Tiny feet and ill-fitting shoes. And of course stunning dancing to a fabulous score.

Who it’s for: Anyone who loves a charming romance, Broadway musicals, or a great pair of shoes.

What will I see? While the ballet has some similarities to the animated classic, Wheeldon chose elements from both the Charles Perrault fairy-tale (the one the movie pulls from) and the Brothers Grimm, which has a few darker tones. So let’s start at the beginning….

ACT I: CINDERELLA’S HOME AND THE PALACE

Yuan Yuan Tan as Cinderella with the four Fates in Wheeldon’s Cinderella© // © Erik Tomasson

The Plot: Fairy tales are notoriously hostile to mothers. Cinderella is no different. Our ballet opens with young Cinderella innocently playing outside when her mother suddenly falls ill and dies. (Don’t worry, it gets happier from there.) With her mother’s death, Cinderella acquires Four Fates, who look after her. When she cries over her mother’s grave, a (magical) tree grows out of her tears. We’ll come back to that.
Choreographer George Balanchine famously said there are no mothers-in-law in ballet—unfortunately for Cinderella, there are plenty of stepmothers (and stepsisters too!). Her father remarries a vile woman named Hortensia, who comes along with two equally (or are they?) vile daughters, Clementine and Edwina. Though our poor Cinderella tries at first to stand up to these mean girls, her father demands she play nice. Cinderella becomes not just nice, but fully subservient to the family.

San Francisco Ballet in Wheeldon’s Cinderella© // © Erik Tomasson

Meanwhile, back at the palace, young Prince Guillaume and his best friend Benjamin are growing up under the watchful eyes of King Albert and Queen Charlotte. Albert and Charlotte break the (unsurprising) news that Guillaume needs to find a nice princess to marry. Then, to add insult to injury, his father insists he be the one to deliver invitations to the ball at which he’ll pick a bride. 

Guillaume does have one trick up his sleeve though: he has Benjamin pretend to be a prince, while he pretends to be a beggar. A quite Homeric way to see what’s what in a household. Cinderella’s stepsisters are terrible; Cinderella is sweet. She and the “beggar” share a dance as they pretend to be at the ball.

San Francisco Ballet in Wheeldon’s Cinderella© // © Chris Hardy

Fast forward a few days and worst-stepmother-ever Hortensia casually tosses Cinderella’s invite to the ball in the fire. Hortensia, Edwina, and Clementine go to the ball, leaving Cinderella alone cleaning the kitchen. At this point those fates take charge, bringing Cinderella to the tree (remember the tree?) who acts in place of the more traditional fairy godmother and gets her all set up with dress, invite, carriage, and a few new dance moves.

Frances Chung in Wheeldon’s Cinderella© // © Erik Tomasson

What should I look for? This first act obviously sets up a huge amount of plot exposition and character development—but while that’s all good and well, the big moment is actually one that’s just about Cinderella herself and her mother’s love: her transformation at the end of the act, helped by her mother’s tree. This moment features outstanding, magical puppetry.

ACT II: THE PALACE BALLROOM

Dores André and Carlo Di Lanno in in Wheeldon’s Cinderella© // © Erik Tomasson

The plot: This is the ball scene, you know what happens! Guillaume sadly wanders around, displeased with all the eligible ladies. Hortense and Edwina make true fools of themselves. And Cinderella makes a grand (masked) entrance all decked in gold, from tiara to toe shoes. Guillaume immediately falls for her and they dances together. Meanwhile, Benjamin is falling for Clementine, who, it turns out, is perhaps not all bad. Hortensia, on the other hand, is just that bad, and she rips Cinderella’s mask off. Cinderella dashes out and leaves a golden slipper behind (it’s hard to dance in glass).

What should I look for? This scene really plays with the corps de ballet, creating stunning kaleidoscopic formations that both stand on their own and highlight the principal dancers. Also, keep an eye out for those stepsisters—their duet in this act is one of the comedic highlights of the ballet.

ACT II: BACK IN CINDERELLA’S KITCHEN

San Francisco Ballet in Wheeldon’s Cinderella© //© Erik Tomasson

The plot: Guillaume and Benjamin strike out to find the girl who fits the shoe and search high and low before making it to Cinderella’s home. When it doesn’t fit Edwina or Clementine, Hortensia shows her true colors (again) and throws the golden pointe shoe in the fire. Luckily Cinderella is able to produce the matching shoe and she and Guillaume live happily ever after. And, never fear—though Guillaume may have less time for Benjamin now that he’s got a girl, Benjamin makes out pretty well too, sweeping Clementine off her feet and out of her mother’s grasp.
What should I look for? While many ballets end with a big wedding, and this one is no exception, it’s a different kind of wedding than is typical: softer, more romantic, less pomp and circumstance. A simple pas de deux for Cinderella and Guillaume under her mother’s tree transforms into a charming outdoor wedding with all our favorites in attendance and the final image of the ballet isn’t an upbeat crowded finale, but just our prince and new princess enjoying a quiet moment, together at last.


Purchase Tickets

Header image: Yuan Yuan Tan in Wheeldon’s Cinderella© // © Erik Tomasson

*Cinderella© by Christopher Wheeldon

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

Your Ultimate Guide to Dance Innovations

What is it? An evening of ballet that shows the art form in all its facets: emotional, philosophical, and, well, pure delight. From light installations to pink wigs to classic white tutus, Dance Innovations has something for everyone.

Who’s it for? Anyone who loves artist Olafur Eliasson, likes puzzling over conceptual ideas, or is just a fan of pure pomp and circumstance.

San Francisco Ballet in Liang's The Infinite Ocean. (© Erik Tomasson)
San Francisco Ballet in Liang’s The Infinite Ocean. (© Erik Tomasson)

THE INFINITE OCEAN

What Am I Seeing? The latest piece for SF Ballet by BalletMet Artistic Director Edwaar Liang. Created for the 2018 Unbound Festival, The Infinite Ocean explores the liminal space between life and death. Full of complex partnering and deep emotions, this ballet was a favorite among audience members both when it premiered here and on tour in Washington D.C. and London.

What Am I Hearing? A violin concerto by London-based composer Oliver Davis, written in 2018. Davis’s work is being used more and more often by ballet choreographers, including Ma Cong, Peter Walker, and Matthew Neenan.  

What Should I Look For? The central pas de deux: sometimes the trickiness in ballet partnering is making it look simple. That’s not the case here. The partnering is just as complex as it looks as the dancers cantilever themselves into Alexander Calder-like shapes.

 

San Francisco Ballet rehearse McIntyre's The Big Hunger // © Erik Tomasson
San Francisco Ballet rehearse McIntyre’s The Big Hunger // © Erik Tomasson

THE BIG HUNGER

What Am I Seeing? Acclaimed choreographer Trey McIntyre returns to SF Ballet with his world premiere The Big Hunger. Known for often working with pop music, this ballet is a departure for Trey, as he taps into his musical background to explore a classical score by Sergei Prokofiev. But Trey’s dances are rarely solely about the music, and in this case, he’s also playing with some philosophical concepts. Specifically, he’s thinking about the things that give life meaning and the things we sometimes think are meaningful, but really aren’t.

What Am I Hearing? Sergei Prokofiev Piano Concerto no. 2, written in 1913 and revised in .  It’s one of the most difficult pieces to play in the piano repertoire and (as far as I know) has never been used before in a ballet.

What Should I Look For? This ballet is divided into three sections, each featuring a principal couple. These three sections and three couples each represent a different stage toward enlightenment—notice how those relationships are distinct, notice how the sets change between sections, and notice how each couple moves and partners differently.   

 

San Francisco Ballet in Lander's Etudes. (© Erik Tomasson)
San Francisco Ballet in Lander’s Etudes. (© Erik Tomasson)

ETUDES

What Am I Seeing? Choreographed in 1948 by Danish choreographer Harald Lander, Études is an ode to classical ballet’s history and form. A series of studies, or “études,” this ballet puts its dancers through their paces. Beginning with exercises at the barre, then foraying into ballet’s Romantic Era past, the ballet ends with a spectacular display of virtuosity and technique.

What am I hearing? A variety of piano études by Carl Czerny, arranged and orchestrated by Knudaage Riisager. These piano pieces were created to challenge and train students, making them a clever match for a ballet about ballet training.

What should I look for? The central ballerina who flits in and out throughout the ballet, sometimes in a short, classical tutu and sometimes in a longer, Romantic-era one. And for the way that the steps you see later in the ballet—the jumps and turns—relate to the earlier exercises you saw at the barre. If you can make that connection, it may well change how you watch all ballets.

/* Style Definitions */
table.MsoNormalTable
{mso-style-name:”Table Normal”;
mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0;
mso-tstyle-colband-size:0;
mso-style-noshow:yes;
mso-style-priority:99;
mso-style-parent:””;
mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
mso-para-margin:0in;
mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt;
mso-pagination:widow-orphan;
font-size:12.0pt;
font-family:”Calibri”,sans-serif;
mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri;
mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin;
mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri;
mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;
mso-bidi-font-family:”Times New Roman”;
mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;}

Dance Innovations plays at the War Memorial Opera House February 13, 15, 18, 19, 21, and 23.


Purchase Tickets

Header image: San Francisco Ballet in Liang’s The Infinite Ocean // © Erik Tomasson

Your Ultimate Guide to Ballet Accelerator

What is it? Ballet at full speed for the 21st century featuring works by two Brits, Cathy Marston and David Dawson, and our own Helgi Tomasson. 

Who’s it for? Anyone who loves a modern update on a classical theme, picked up The Feminine Mystique in undergrad, or enjoys the pure thrill of watching elite athletes compete. 

 

Yuan Yuan Tan and Tiit Helimets in Tomasson's 7 For Eight // © Erik Tomasson
Yuan Yuan Tan and Tiit Helimets in Tomasson’s 7 For Eight // © Erik Tomasson

7 FOR EIGHT

What Am I Seeing? 7 for Eight does what the title says: it’s a ballet in seven sections for eight dancers created by SF Ballet Artistic Director and Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson in 2004. Its black-on-black color scheme, dramatic lighting effects, and shifting moods update the Baroque music for a modern era.

What Am I Hearing? Seven keyboard concertos by J.S. Bach written between 1729 and 1741. Six are played with a piano. One, played during a man’s solo, is performed on a harpsichord, as it would have been in the period.   

What Should I Look For? Notice how the number of dancers on stage shifts and morphs throughout the ballet. The eight dancers seem to be able to make an infinite (or, rather seven) number of shifting groups, from solos, to duets, to trios, and full ensemble configurations. And notice how the ballet’s mood changes throughout: from yearning and reaching to playful and clever.

Mathilde Froustey and Benjamin Freemantle rehearsing Cathy Marston’s new work // © Erik Tomasson

Cathy Marston World Premiere

What Am I Seeing? Cathy Marston is one of the hottest names in choreography right now. Following major premieres in New York and Chicago, this ballet is her second commission for SF Ballet. Set in 1960s California and focused on a love affair between an older woman and a younger man, this new work explores questions of love, sex, identity, femininity, and feminism.

What Am I Hearing? A newly commissioned score by British composer Terry Davies. Written specifically for this ballet, the score provides a structure for the movement. 

What Should I Look For? Cathy’s ballets tell stories, but not through traditional mime. Rather, she creates movement phrases and gestures based on words that help establish character and narrative. See if you can identify these repeated movements throughout the work and what they tell you about its protagonists. 

San Francisco Ballet in Dawson’s Anima Animus // © Erik Tomasson

ANIMA ANIMUS

What Am I Seeing? An example of physically emotional virtuosity by dancemaker David Dawson. Anima Animus is ballet pushed to every extreme; technique stretched to its outer limit. Playing with the idea of opposites—man-woman; black-white; lifted-grounded—this work nods to ballet’s past while pointing toward its future.

What am I hearing? Ezio Bosso’s Violin Concerto No. 1 “Esoconcerto.” Bosso’s score creates a sense of driving motion matched by the dancing.

What should I look for? The second movement and its virtuosic play between the two principal women and the four men. For the way that Dawson manipulates ballet technique: rarely is a dancer truly upright—everything is leaning, at an angle, off-balance. And for the wing-like gestures the dancers’ make with their arms, evoking flight.

Ballet Accelerator plays at the War Memorial Opera House on March 24, 25, 27, and 29, as well as April 2 and 4.


Purchase Tickets

Header image: Norika Matsuyama in Tomasson’s 7 For Eight // © Erik Tomasson

Ultimate Guide to A Midsummer Night’s Dream

George Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream will be part of SF Ballet’s 2020 Season, with performances March 6–15.

By Jennie Scholick, PhD

What is it? A Shakespearean favorite making its triumphant return to San Francisco after a 35-year absence. This 1962 work by George Balanchine to music by Felix Mendelssohn was his first original full-length ballet and quickly hailed as a masterpiece. Balanchine loved the original play—he could recite large parts of it in Russian—so the ballet sticks close to its inspiration, telling the story of four lost lovers in the woods, as well as of a royal fairy court made up of Queen Titania, King Oberon, and mischievous Puck.

In short: Adventures and misadventures. Mischief and magic. Woodland creatures and fairyland foibles.

Who it’s for: Anyone who loves high fantasy, the pure dance of George Balanchine, or is a sucker for weddings.

What will I see? Our story opens in a forest outside of Athens on Midsummer Eve…

ACT I

Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Laura Tisserand and Ezra Thomson in Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Choreography © The George Balanchine Trust // © Angela Sterling

The Plot: The ballet quickly introduces us to three main groups of characters. First up, the fairies: Puck is a mischievous sprite, and Oberon and Titania are the King and Queen of the Fairies, trapped in a battle of wills over who gets to care for a charming changeling child.

Next, we meet the inhabitants of Athens: Hermia and Lysander, very much in love; Demetrius, who also loves Hermia; and Helena, in love with Demetrius. We also, briefly, meet Theseus, the Duke of Athens, and his fiancée Hippolyta, the Queen of the Amazons, as they consider Hermia and Lysander’s request to be married against her father’s wishes. Upon rejecting the request, the lovers run off into the woods, followed by Demetrius and Helena.

Finally, we encounter Bottom, a weaver, and his friends, also wandering the forest on this midsummer night.

As if this isn’t enough activity already, Oberon, interested both in helping out these young human lovers and in getting back at his queen, has Puck bring him a flower pierced by Cupid’s arrow. Why? When touched by this flower, a person falls in love with the first person they lay eyes on. He instructs Puck to make Demetrius love Helena and to play a trick on Titania.

Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Laura Tisserand and Ezra Thomson in Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Choreography © The George Balanchine Trust // © Angela Sterling

But of course it isn’t that simple. First, Puck accidentally anoints Lysander, not Demetrius, causing him to fall in love with Helena, and then, attempting to remedy the mistake, anoints Demetrius as well. Now, instead of both men loving Hermia, they both love Helena, confusing and upsetting the entire crew.

Meanwhile, Puck separates Bottom from his group and transforms his head into that of a donkey. (Yes, he’s making an “ass” out of him. Shakespeare’s clever like that.) He puts the donkey-headed man near Titania’s bower, douses her in flower dew, and when she awakens … well, she falls in love with the ass. Oberon shows up just in time to release her from the spell, at which point she’s embarrassed enough to make up with her husband.

As the night drags on, the human lovers eventually wear themselves out with fighting and fall asleep, giving Puck a chance to put all the pairs to rights. Theseus and Hippolyta (accompanied by her hounds) find and wake them, and now that everyone’s paired off correctly, they declare it’s time for a triple wedding.

What should I look for? The whole entire plot (five acts in the original play) is condensed down into this single act, so a lot of what you’re looking for is who’s who! But there are a few key dance moments too, especially for the fairies. Notice that Titania and Oberon never dance together, instead Titania dances with a nameless cavalier in a pas de deux that is full of long, elegant lines, and of course with Bottom, in what must be one of the funniest pas de deux ever choreographed! And Oberon has a solo full of quick jumps and what we call “batterie,” or small beats made with the feet while in the air. This is one of the hardest solos that Balanchine ever choreographed, so don’t miss it! And finally, watch Puck, who moves with quicksilver lightness throughout the whole ballet. Created on Arthur Mitchell, this was one of the defining roles of his career.

ACT II

Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Lesley Rausch and Benjamin Griffiths with company dancers in Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Choreography © The George Balanchine Trust // © Angela Sterling

The plot: With all the plot in Act I that leaves … a wedding, of course, for Act II! A triple wedding, that is, as Theseus and Hippolyta, Helena and Demetrius, and Hermia and Lysander all tie the knot.

After the wedding entertainment ends, we return to the forest, where we see our reconciled King and Queen of the Fairies. Puck—who brought us into this forest scene—closes out the ballet, as he does the play: “If we shadows have offended/Think but this, and all is mended,/
That you have but slumber’d here/While these visions did appear….So, good night unto you all./Give me your hands, if we be friends,/And Robin shall restore amends.”

What should I look for? This act hinges on the Divertissment pas de deux, in some ways, an odd moment when Balanchine inserts an entirely new couple into the action to dance together at the wedding. This duet seems to show everything that the other couples in the ballet don’t have: decorum, grace, equality, mutuality, respect. Low lifts—never above the shoulder—and careful handholding create a sense of ease and intimacy. A final sweeping backbend suggests a gentle fall into perfect love.  


Purchase Tickets

Header image: Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Lesley Rausch and Benjamin Griffiths with company dancers in Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Choreography © The George Balanchine Trust // © Angela Sterling

Your Ultimate Guide to The Little Mermaid


Reserve Now

What is it? Watching John Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid is like stepping into another world, or an alternate dimension. Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s fable about a mermaid willing to sacrifice everything for the man she loves, this ballet is a modern take on this classic tale. Created by the same mind as last season’s Nijinsky, this ballet is dramatic, visually stunning, and ultimately heartbreaking.

In short: High drama. Intense theatricality. Magical sets. Heartrending romance.

Who it’s for: Anyone who loves operatic tragedies, dark fairy tales, and psychologically intense choreography.

What Will I See? This isn’t the animated film version, but instead a sophisticated take on Anderson’s fable with a little twist: Neumeier adds a biographical gloss to the story, adding in a Poet, based loosely on Andersen himself…

PROLOGUE

Lloyd Riggins in Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid //© Erik Tomasson

The Plot: The ballet opens on a boat, where we see the Poet thinking about his best friend Edvard. The Poet clearly thinks of Edvard as more than just a friend and is in despair over his wedding to Henriette. A tear rolls down his cheek and he follows that tear as it falls into the ocean.

What Should I Look For? This prologue serves as a framing narrative for the rest of the ballet and introduces us to the Poet and Edvard. Notice how the Poet’s movements seem slower and more deliberate than those of Edvard and the wedding party, and how both groups have different stylized movements that convey their thoughts and emotions.  

PART I

Yuan Yuan Tan and Tiit Helimets in Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid // © Erik Tomasson

The Plot: We meet the Poet at the bottom of the sea, where his desire for Edvard takes shape as a mermaid who dreams of visiting the human world. A ship passes by and its captain is a Prince who bears a startling resemblance to Edvard (see where this is going?). He dives into the sea to retrieve a golf ball, but a storm created by the evil Sea Witch causes him to nearly drown. The Mermaid rescues him, bringing him to shore, and falls in love.

But upon awakening on the beach, the Prince sees not the Mermaid, but a Princess with (surprise!) a resemblance to Henriette. As the Mermaid watches in despair, the Prince falls for the Princess.

The Mermaid—like the Poet—isn’t going to take this lying down. She seeks out the Sea Witch for help. The Sea Witch agrees—but at a cost. A violent ritual results in the Mermaid gaining legs, but even a single step on land causes extreme pain.

This time, the Prince finds the Mermaid washed up on the shore and takes her onboard his ship. However, instead of happily ever after, she now has a front row seat to watch his developing relationship with the Princess.

What Should I Look For? Notice how people on land—both the Mermaid, once she’s transformed, and the humans—move differently than the creatures under the sea. That effect is created both choreographically and through production elements. One major complication for the choreographer in creating this ballet was how to make dancers look like they had fins, not legs. He settled on long pants that seem to flow as if in water. Notice how these costumes act almost like props and change the way the dancers move.

PART II

San Francisco Ballet in Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid // © Erik Tomasson

The Plot: Most of this act shows the Mermaid’s torment. Unable to be with the Prince, who’s now engaged to the Princess, and trapped by the rooms and walls of the human world, she becomes desperate. So the Sea Witch offers a solution: he says if she kills the Prince, she’ll get her tail back and be able to go home. But the Mermaid can’t do it. She really does love him. So she leaves without harming him.

What Should I Look for? This act is all about the Mermaid’s psychology. Note how the sets seem to close in on her, in contrast to the open expanse of the ocean. Look for the way her movement conveys pain and agony. And watch for her interactions with both the Prince and the Poet—what do they tell us about her? And about these two men?  

EPILOGUE

Yuan Yuan Tan in Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid // © Erik Tomasson


The Plot:
Now both the Mermaid and the Poet are alone, rejected by Edvard/the Prince but unable to go back to life before this intense love. And yet, they come together, bound by their loss, creator and creation. The Poet’s love gives the Mermaid a soul, making her immortal; the Mermaid’s story will make the Poet immortal. They leave together.

What Should I Look For? Look for how perfectly matched the Poet and the Mermaid’s movements are. They’ve danced together earlier in the ballet, but not with this kind of uniformity, almost as if one is the shadow of the other. After all of the angst and torture of the earlier scenes, how does this ending, in which these two depend on each other, create a new sense of hope?

Header image: Yuan Yuan Tan and Tiit Helimets in Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid // © Erik Tomasson


Reserve Now

Who’s Who in The Sleeping Beauty

Sasha De Sola in Tomasson’s The Sleeping Beauty. (© Erik Tomasson)

Aurora (a.k.a. The Princess, Beauty, Her Royal Highness)

Bio: Firstborn child of the Tsar and Tsarina, Aurora is cursed to sleep a hundred years. She’s rescued by Prince Desiré, whom she later marries.

Likes: Parties, roses, making her own decisions, pointy objects

Dislikes: Being told what to do, sleeping in

Carlo Di Lanno in Tomasson’s The Sleeping Beauty. (© Erik Tomasson)

Prince Desiré (a.k.a. Prince Charming, His Royal Highness)

Bio: Little is known of Prince Desiré’s origins, though his name suggests his native country was Francophone. The lucky godson of The Lilac Fairy, his claim to fame is that he fell in love with a girl in a vision and then saved her entire kingdom with a kiss.

Likes: Saving entire kingdoms, dancing with sleeping princesses, hunting

Dislikes: Evil curses, women born in this century

San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson’s The Sleeping Beauty. (© Erik Tomasson)

The Lilac Fairy (a.k.a. The Fairy of Wisdom)

Bio: The most powerful fairy in the land, the Lilac Fairy is godmother to both Princess Aurora and Prince Desiré, and, one presumes, several other princes and princesses. Wise, and perhaps a bit over-involved in her godchildren’s lives, her origins are shrouded in mystery.

Likes: Lilacs, good decision making, children

Dislikes: The Fairy of Darkness

The Tsar (a.k.a. The King, His Royal Highness, Dad)

Bio: Aurora’s father and king of a vast fairytale nation, the Tsar is known for being slightly overbearing, but all out of love for his only child.

Likes: Power, the Tsarina, hosting parties

Dislikes: Disobedience, pointy objects

San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson’s The Sleeping Beauty. (© Chris Hardy)

The Tsarina (a.k.a. The Queen, Her Royal Highness, Mom)

Bio: Prone to hysterics, Aurora’s mother, the Tsarina, is luckily good friends with the Lilac Fairy, who manages to keep her head about her in a crisis.

Likes: Aurora, the Lilac Fairy, large crowns

Dislikes: Too much excitement

San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson’s The Sleeping Beauty. (© Erik Tomasson)

The Fairy of Darkness (a.k.a Carabosse)

Bio: Residing in a dark wood alongside her bird-like attendants, the Fairy of Darkness is easily offended and not afraid to make her feelings known.

Likes: Sharp objects, the color black

Dislikes: Not being invited to things

San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson’s The Sleeping Beauty. (© Chris Hardy)

The Master of Ceremonies (a.k.a. Catalabutte)

Bio: A lifelong civil servant, the Master of Ceremonies had a track record of reliably inviting all the correct guests to all the correct ceremonies. Until the day he didn’t. Luckily, the Tsar and Tsarina were forgiving, and he retained his job.

Likes: A properly set table, engraved invitations, correctly decanted wine

Dislikes: People who don’t RSVP

San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson’s The Sleeping Beauty // © Erik Tomasson

The Four Princes

Bios: Hailing from around the Empire, these four princes vie for Aurora’s hand in marriage. Unfortunately, none of them are chosen as the lucky gentleman and, presumably, get caught in the sleeping curse.

Thamires Chuvas and Alexander Reneff-Olson in Tomasson’s The Sleeping Beauty. (© Erik Tomasson)

The White Cat

Bio: An enchanted princess trapped in the form of a kitty cat, the White Cat is biding her time with Puss in Boots until her prince arrives. Unfortunately, she can’t be saved by a kiss: he’ll have to chop off her head and tail before her curse will be broken.

Likes: Princes, washing herself, purring

Dislikes: Curses, mice

Puss in Boots

Bio: A cat, bestowed upon the youngest son, with some magical powers and a penchant for wearing boots.

Likes: Boots, making peoples’ fortunes, milk

Dislikes: Swimming, people who talk to him like a cat

Natasha Sheehan in Tomasson’s The Sleeping Beauty. (© Erik Tomasson)

The Enchanted Princess (a.k.a. Princess Florine)

Bio: Trapped in an evil tower by her stepmother, the Enchanted Princess ultimately breaks free thanks to a village rebellion and manages to rescue her prince.

Likes: Freedom, birds, the villagers

Dislikes: Her stepmother and stepsister

Lonnie Weeks in Tomasson’s The Sleeping Beauty. (© Erik Tomasson)

Bluebird (a.k.a. King Charmant)

Bio: Transformed into a bird by his girlfriend’s stepsister’s fairy godmother, the Bluebird has to wait to be rescued by the princess—a nice role reversal!

Likes: Flying, the Enchanted Princess, technically difficult dancing

Dislikes: Eating worms, being trapped as a bird

San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson’s The Sleeping Beauty.
(© Erik Tomasson)

The Fairies

Our fairytale kingdom is inhabited by many fairies, all of whom seem to respect the Lilac Fairy and fear the Fairy of Darkness. Here is a sampling:

The Fairy of Tenderness (a.k.a. Candide)

Likes: Talking, Voltaire, being nice

Dislikes: Mean people, the Fairy of Darkness, waiting

The Fairy of Generosity (a.k.a. Coulante, Fleur de Farine)

Likes: Giving gifts, frolicking in fields, bread products

Dislikes: Stingy people, being cooped up inside

The Fairy of Serenity (a.k.a. Miettes qui Tombe, Breadcrumb)

Likes: Long walks on the beach, yoga

Dislikes: When people make fun of her name. She didn’t ask to be named the Breadcrumb Fairy.

The Fairy of Playfulness (a.k.a. Canary, Song-Bird)

Likes: Singing, talking, chattering, jazz hands

Dislikes: Being quiet

The Fairy of Courage (a.k.a. Violante)

Likes: Playing with electricity, pointing at things

Dislikes: Water

The Jewels (a.k.a. the Diamond Fairy, the Gold Fairy, the Silver Fairy, and the Sapphire Fairy)

Likes: Things that glitter

Dislikes: Costume jewelry

Reserve Tickets

Your Ultimate Guide to Don Quixote

What is it? This ballet is pure fun. Inspired by Cervantes’ famous (and very long) novel, the ballet Don Quixote (first choreographed in 1869 by Marius Petipa to music by Ludwig Minkus) takes a few short episodes from the book to craft a charming story that’s become known for its sassy heroine, Spanish setting, and—of course—its donkey. Our version, created by Artistic Director and Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson and choreographer Yuri Possokhov, features beautiful sets and costumes by Martin Pakledinaz.

In short: Spanish lovers. Tilting at windmills. A horse and a donkey. And pyrotechnic dancing.

Who’s it for? Anyone who loves great literature, vacationing in Madrid, or romantic comedies.

What will I see? Well, you need to know that this ballet doesn’t contain all of Cervantes’ plot—that would be a really long ballet! Instead, it focuses on three chapters in the second half of the book, which tell the story of a young man named Basilio and his love, Quiterio, or, as we know her in the ballet, Kitri…

PROLOGUE: DON QUIXOTE’S STORY

Jim Sohm and Pascal Molat in Tomasson/Possokhov’s Don Quixote // © Erik Tomasson

The plot: Remember how your parents told you that too much television would rot your brain? Well, in some way that’s the premise of this tale—but instead of tv, it’s books (the 16th-century version of tv!).

The ballet opens in a musty study in La Mancha, Spain circa 1550, where we meet Don Quixote, a lesser nobleman with a taste for chivalric romance novels. Engrossed in his books, which tell tales of knights in shining armor, daring adventures, and damsels in distress, he falls asleep and dreams he’s a knight in love with the ideal woman, Dulcinea. His sleep is interrupted by the entrance of Sancho Panza, a peasant from the village, clutching a stolen ham and chased by a band of housewives. Convinced the tales he’s read are true, Don Quixote decides to embark on an adventure—with Sancho recruited as his squire—to defend the code of chivalry throughout the land.

What should I look for? This is our first chance to note the dynamic between Don Quixote and Sancho Panza—how does Sancho react to this sudden change in his fate?—and gives us a hint of the comedy to come.


ACT 1: A SQUARE IN BARCELONA

Frances Chung in Tomasson/Possokhov’s Don Quixote // © Erik Tomasson

The plot: Now we get to meet the ballet’s hero and heroine: Kitri and her love Basilio. We see them dance with friends—Espada, a matador, and his sultry lover, Mercedes—and with each other. But all’s not well in this Spanish paradise: Lorenzo, Kitri’s father, decrees that his daughter isn’t going to marry some poor barber, but instead a foppish nobleman named Gamache.

Right as this is all going down, Don Quixote and Sancho arrive on a horse and donkey respectively—and yes, they are real animals—and join the festivities. Don Quixote mistakes Kitri for his love, Dulcinea, squaring off the love triangle between Basilio, Kitri, and Gamache. Amidst all the merriment, Kitri and Basilio manage to sneak off, hotly pursued by Don Quixote, Sancho Panza, Lorenzo, and Gamache.

What should I look for? This first act is full of fabulous dancing. Watch for the way that Kitri and Basilio alternate dancing—this comes out of traditional ballets where women’s and men’s solos alternate, but in this particular ballet, it also has the sense of a conversation, or flirtation, in which each is trying to one-up the other. Also, note how Spanish flair is added on top of classical ballet, through arm gestures pulled from flamenco, and big kicks and leaps, including the famous “Kitri” or “Plisetskaya jump,” where the dancer almost kicks herself in the head!


ACT 2: THE GYPSY CAMP/THE DREAM/THE TAVERN

Koto Ishihara in Tomasson/Possokhov’s Don Quixote // © Erik Tomasson

The plot: Kitri and Basilio sneak into a gypsy camp, where they explain their predicament (that her father wants to marry Kitri to an awful man) and the gypsies agree to help them. When the whole crew—led by Gamache on the donkey—arrives at the camp, the gypsies distract them with a puppet show. Don Quixote gets confused (again) and thinks one of the puppets is Dulcinea, so he attacks the puppet stage, causing everyone else to scatter. Then he thinks a windmill is a giant, and attacks it too, before collapsing with exhaustion.

While knocked out, Don Quixote dreams that Kitri becomes his Dulcinea and that he meets (a female) Cupid, the Queen of the Dryads, and a whole slew of other nymphs. When he awakens, Sancho drags him off to a tavern. Kitri and Basilio are already there, still pursued by Lorenzo and Gamache. Basilio and Kitri beg to be allowed to marry and when Lorenzo refuses, Basilio threatens to stab himself.

Which he does.

Except, it’s fake, but only Kitri knows. Basilio begs Lorenzo to allow him to marry Kitri as his dying wish. He also recruits Don Quixote to his side—supporting a dying wish does seem to be the chivalric thing to do after all. As soon as Lorenzo relents, up Basilio pops, good as new.

What should I look for? In the dream scene, you’ll want to look for the Kitri/Dulcinea character to be able to really change personalities—as Kitri, she’s fiery and sexy, but here she’s regal and pure. The Queen of the Dryads and Cupid give other dancers an opportunity to shine—look for crisp technique and high contrast between these two characters. Oh, and watch of course for Basilio in the tavern—it’s the comedic high point of the ballet.


ACT 3: THE WEDDING

San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson/Possokhov’s Don Quixote // © Erik Tomasson

The plot: But wait! We aren’t quite done. There has to be a wedding. Many friends and acquaintances return, including Espada and Mercedes, and, of course, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, who come to wish the couple well. A big wedding celebration ensues and everyone lives happily ever after, with the Don and Sancho heading out to their next big adventure.

What should I look for? This act is all about the pas de deux. Kitri and Basilio get to show off for the crowd and for each other in a duet that’s become a regular feature at ballet galas and competitions. The catch? It’s much harder after dancing the rest of a two-hour ballet. Watch especially for their variations: the double turns in the air for Basilio’s, how Kitri manipulates her fan and her hops on pointe (harder than they look!), and their series of consecutive turns in the coda. Though not as famous as the fouetté turns in Swan Lake, these are just as impressive and are a place where dancers put their own spin (pun intended) on the choreography, adding in tricks with fans, multiple turns, and sometimes changes of direction.

 

Purchase your Don Quixote tickets today

 

Your Ultimate Guide to Don Quixote

What is it? This ballet is pure fun. Inspired by Cervantes’ famous (and very long) novel, the ballet Don Quixote (first choreographed in 1869 by Marius Petipa to music by Ludwig Minkus) takes a few short episodes from the book to craft a charming story that’s become known for its sassy heroine, Spanish setting, and—of course—its donkey. Our version, created by Artistic Director and Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson and choreographer Yuri Possokhov, features beautiful sets and costumes by Martin Pakledinaz.

In short: Spanish lovers. Tilting at windmills. A horse and a donkey. And pyrotechnic dancing.

Who’s it for? Anyone who loves great literature, vacationing in Madrid, or romantic comedies.

What will I see? Well, you need to know that this ballet doesn’t contain all of Cervantes’ plot—that would be a really long ballet! Instead, it focuses on three chapters in the second half of the book, which tell the story of a young man named Basilio and his love, Quiterio, or, as we know her in the ballet, Kitri…

PROLOGUE: DON QUIXOTE’S STORY

Jim Sohm and Pascal Molat in Tomasson/Possokhov’s Don Quixote // © Erik Tomasson

The plot: Remember how your parents told you that too much television would rot your brain? Well, in some way that’s the premise of this tale—but instead of tv, it’s books (the 16th-century version of tv!).

The ballet opens in a musty study in La Mancha, Spain circa 1550, where we meet Don Quixote, a lesser nobleman with a taste for chivalric romance novels. Engrossed in his books, which tell tales of knights in shining armor, daring adventures, and damsels in distress, he falls asleep and dreams he’s a knight in love with the ideal woman, Dulcinea. His sleep is interrupted by the entrance of Sancho Panza, a peasant from the village, clutching a stolen ham and chased by a band of housewives. Convinced the tales he’s read are true, Don Quixote decides to embark on an adventure—with Sancho recruited as his squire—to defend the code of chivalry throughout the land.

What should I look for? This is our first chance to note the dynamic between Don Quixote and Sancho Panza—how does Sancho react to this sudden change in his fate?—and gives us a hint of the comedy to come.


ACT 1: A SQUARE IN BARCELONA

Frances Chung in Tomasson/Possokhov’s Don Quixote // © Erik Tomasson

The plot: Now we get to meet the ballet’s hero and heroine: Kitri and her love Basilio. We see them dance with friends—Espada, a matador, and his sultry lover, Mercedes—and with each other. But all’s not well in this Spanish paradise: Lorenzo, Kitri’s father, decrees that his daughter isn’t going to marry some poor barber, but instead a foppish nobleman named Gamache.

Right as this is all going down, Don Quixote and Sancho arrive on a horse and donkey respectively—and yes, they are real animals—and join the festivities. Don Quixote mistakes Kitri for his love, Dulcinea, squaring off the love triangle between Basilio, Kitri, and Gamache. Amidst all the merriment, Kitri and Basilio manage to sneak off, hotly pursued by Don Quixote, Sancho Panza, Lorenzo, and Gamache.

What should I look for? This first act is full of fabulous dancing. Watch for the way that Kitri and Basilio alternate dancing—this comes out of traditional ballets where women’s and men’s solos alternate, but in this particular ballet, it also has the sense of a conversation, or flirtation, in which each is trying to one-up the other. Also, note how Spanish flair is added on top of classical ballet, through arm gestures pulled from flamenco, and big kicks and leaps, including the famous “Kitri” or “Plisetskaya jump,” where the dancer almost kicks herself in the head!


ACT 2: THE GYPSY CAMP/THE DREAM/THE TAVERN

Koto Ishihara in Tomasson/Possokhov’s Don Quixote // © Erik Tomasson

The plot: Kitri and Basilio sneak into a gypsy camp, where they explain their predicament (that her father wants to marry Kitri to an awful man) and the gypsies agree to help them. When the whole crew—led by Gamache on the donkey—arrives at the camp, the gypsies distract them with a puppet show. Don Quixote gets confused (again) and thinks one of the puppets is Dulcinea, so he attacks the puppet stage, causing everyone else to scatter. Then he thinks a windmill is a giant, and attacks it too, before collapsing with exhaustion.

While knocked out, Don Quixote dreams that Kitri becomes his Dulcinea and that he meets (a female) Cupid, the Queen of the Dryads, and a whole slew of other nymphs. When he awakens, Sancho drags him off to a tavern. Kitri and Basilio are already there, still pursued by Lorenzo and Gamache. Basilio and Kitri beg to be allowed to marry and when Lorenzo refuses, Basilio threatens to stab himself.

Which he does.

Except, it’s fake, but only Kitri knows. Basilio begs Lorenzo to allow him to marry Kitri as his dying wish. He also recruits Don Quixote to his side—supporting a dying wish does seem to be the chivalric thing to do after all. As soon as Lorenzo relents, up Basilio pops, good as new.

What should I look for? In the dream scene, you’ll want to look for the Kitri/Dulcinea character to be able to really change personalities—as Kitri, she’s fiery and sexy, but here she’s regal and pure. The Queen of the Dryads and Cupid give other dancers an opportunity to shine—look for crisp technique and high contrast between these two characters. Oh, and watch of course for Basilio in the tavern—it’s the comedic high point of the ballet.


ACT 3: THE WEDDING

San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson/Possokhov’s Don Quixote // © Erik Tomasson

The plot: But wait! We aren’t quite done. There has to be a wedding. Many friends and acquaintances return, including Espada and Mercedes, and, of course, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, who come to wish the couple well. A big wedding celebration ensues and everyone lives happily ever after, with the Don and Sancho heading out to their next big adventure.

What should I look for? This act is all about the pas de deux. Kitri and Basilio get to show off for the crowd and for each other in a duet that’s become a regular feature at ballet galas and competitions. The catch? It’s much harder after dancing the rest of a two-hour ballet. Watch especially for their variations: the double turns in the air for Basilio’s, how Kitri manipulates her fan and her hops on pointe (harder than they look!), and their series of consecutive turns in the coda. Though not as famous as the fouetté turns in Swan Lake, these are just as impressive and are a place where dancers put their own spin (pun intended) on the choreography, adding in tricks with fans, multiple turns, and sometimes changes of direction.

 

Purchase your Don Quixote 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