Geneva Anderson digs into art

“Nutcracker:” the treasured holiday classic opens Friday, December 8, 2012, at San Francisco Ballet

San Francisco Ballet in Helge Tomasson's "Nutcracker," December 7-28, 2012, at War Memorial Opera House.  @ Erik Tomasson

San Francisco Ballet in Helge Tomasson’s “Nutcracker,”December 7-28, 2012 at War Memorial Opera House. @ Erik Tomasson

San Francisco Ballet’s magical production of Tchaikovsky’s beloved Nutcracker opens Friday, December 7, 2012, at War Memorial Opera House, and is always a special treat with its distinctive bow to San Francisco.   Artistic Director and Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson’s production is set in San Francisco on Christmas Eve during the 1915 Pan Pacific International Exposition, an extraordinary world’s fair that transformed San Francisco into a dream-like city of magical domes and pastel-colored buildings.  The ballet opens with a stunning collage of black and white photos from the actual world’s fair, with shots of the Palace of Fine Arts, the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park, Chinatown, and the famous “Painted Lady” Victorians of Alamo Square.  It gradually narrows in on 100 painted Victorian windows until landing at the toymaker Drosselmeyer’s window and the mysterious world of magic and wonder contained therein.   The photos on the fireplace wall at the home in Act I are family photos of the founders of San Francisco Ballet, the visionary Christensen Brothers.  And, in the Act I battle scene (between the mice and the gingerbread soldiers), the giant fireplace stands 22 feet tall and 19 feet wide, about the size of two SF cable cars stacked on top of each other.  The gorgeous combination of dance, Tchaikovsky’s romantic music and the beautiful costumes are punctuated by real magic tricks, orchestrated by the production’s own magic consultant, Menlo Park illusionist Marshall Magoon.  He has made sure that Uncle Drosselmeyer, who makes toys change size and come to life, is unforgettable.  Of course, the very best trick up Drosselmeyer’s sleeve is when he commands the Christmas tree to grow and grow and GROW and it does!   Nutcracker is mesmerizing in all respects.  Plan on taking the family, or someone very special, to this delightful holiday classic.

SF Ballet’s very first Sugar Plum on life before spandex:  Gisella Caccialanza Christensen was the prima ballerina who danced the Sugar Plum Fairy role with the San Francisco Ballet when it staged the first complete U.S. performance of the ballet on Christmas Eve, 1944.  Her partner was her brother-in-law, William Christensen, then the company’s director and her husband, Lew Christensen, was serving in the army.  With a $1,000 budget,  Company members helped by standing in long lines to purchase fabric for costumes in 10-yard lengths, as dictated by wartime rationing.  “The production’s  “Onna White helped me make my costume, which was really awful. We made our own tights then too. They weren’t like tights worn today.  We had to sew our stockings onto little pants to make tights and, like old-style tights, they’d bag out and wouldn’t bounce back and cling to your legs. We sewed pennies or nickels to the waistbands so we’d have something to grab onto to yank up the tights. You couldn’t practice plies or anything before a performance or else you’d be standing there with baggy knees when the curtain came up.  The zipper on my costume split while I was dancing in the dress rehearsal of Nutcracker.  I remember William saying to me, ‘Good luck, sis, and don’t breathe!’”  (Quote courtesy of SF Ballet.)  Ms. Christensen, a long-time resident San Bruno, passed in 1998 at the age of 83.

San Francisco Ballet in Helgi Tomasson's “Nutcracker.” Photo: © Erik Tomasson)

San Francisco Ballet in Helgi Tomasson’s “Nutcracker.” Photo: © Erik Tomasson)

Six Family Performances with gifts & pre-performance Photo Op:  For six performances only, the first 500 children to arrive at War Memorial Opera House will receive a special gift and, at intermission, everyone will enjoy complimentary beverages and sweet treats by Miette, the official bakery of SF Ballet’s Nutcracker.  One hour prior to curtain, Nutcracker characters pose for photos for 30 minutes, so bring your camera.  Lines for entry to War Memorial Opera House and for photos form early, so arrive early.  Photo lines must be stopped 30 minutes prior to curtain so the dancers aren’t late for the performance.  The six family performances will be held on:  Fri, 12/ 7, 7pm; Sun, 12/ 9, 7pm; Tue, 12/11, 7pm; Wed, 12/12, 7pm; Thu, 12/13, 7pm; Fri, 12/14, 2pmHelp SF Ballet win “Battle of the Nutcrackers” on Ovation TV:  You can brush up on San Francisco Ballet’s splendid production by watching this year’s “Battle of the Nutcrackers” on Ovation TV featuring the Company’s 2008 production, with Elizabeth Powell as Clara, on Sunday, December 9 at 3 p.m.  SF Ballet’s production is the only American production to compete in this festive annual ballet extravaganza.  SF Ballet’s production will also broadcast on Mon, Dec 10, 2 pm PST; Mon, Dec 17, 12:30pm PST;  Thu, Dec 20, 10 am PST; Sun, Dec 23, 3pm PST; Tue, Dec 25, 1:30pm PST.

“Battle of the Nutcrackers” is an annual competition on Ovation TV (which plays on Direct TV Channel 274 and other Bay Area service providers as well) and features six Nutcracker productions from around the world:  SF Ballet, the Mariinsky Theatre Ballet, The Royal Ballet, the Bolshoi Ballet, Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures, and the Australian Ballet.  Viewers are invited to watch the various productions and vote on their favorite on Ovation TV’s “Battle of the Nutcrackers” Facebook page.  The full broadcast schedule is here.

San Francisco Ballet’s Luke Ingham in Tomasson's “Nutcracker.”  Photo: © Erik Tomasson)

San Francisco Ballet’s Luke Ingham in Tomasson’s “Nutcracker.” Photo: © Erik Tomasson)

To vote for SF Ballet’s Nutcracker, click here, then scroll down to SF Ballet, and hit the yellow VOTE button.  You may vote as many times as you want and do not need to enter the sweepstakes contest at the bottom of the page in order to vote.  The Viewers’ Choice will be revealed on Christmas Eve, December 24th at 8:00pmET.  A marathon of all the productions will air all day on Christmas Day, December 25th.Ovation TV runs on Direct TV Channel 274 and other Bay Area service providers as well.  To find Ovation TV in your area, click here to be re-directed to their website where you will enter your zip code

Nutcracker Details:  Nutcracker opens Friday, December 7, 2012 and runs through December 28, 2012.  San Francisco Ballet performs at the historic War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave, San Francisco.  Parking:  Civic Center Garage on McAllister Street between Larkin and Polk or Performing Arts Garage on Grove between Franklin and Gough streets.  Traffic delays are common particularly on 101 Southbound around the Golden Gate Bridge and parking can be time-consuming, so plan adequately.  No late seating:  SF Ballet enforces a strict no late seating policy, meaning that guests will not be seated after the lights have dimmed. Latecomers will be asked to stand until there is a break in the program, and will be seated at the discretion of management.  Tickets: $20 – $305, purchase online here  or through Box Office (415) 865-2000, Monday – Friday, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.  Information:  or (415) 865-2000

Bringing Children:  San Francisco Ballet recommends that children attending Nutcracker be at least 5 years old.  Any child who can sit in his own seat and quietly observe a two-hour performance without questions is welcome.  Booster seats for children are provided free of charge for use on the Orchestra level.  No infants may be brought to a performance.  Parents should take children creating a disturbance during the ballet out of the performance hall. 

Love Ballet?  Don’t miss “Nureyev: A Life in Dance” and the fabulous Degas drawing in “The William S. Paley Collection: A Taste for Modernism,” both at San Francisco’s de Young Museum now: 

Costume for Rudolf Nureyev in the role of Romeo, Act II, Romeo and Juliet, Opéra national de Paris. 1984. Velvet, silk, silver lamé, metallic lace, and sequins. Collection of CNCS/Opéra national de Paris.  Photograph by Pascal François/CNCS

Costume for Rudolf Nureyev in the role of Romeo, Act II, Romeo and Juliet, Opéra national de Paris. 1984. Velvet, silk, silver lamé, metallic lace, and sequins. Collection of CNCS/Opéra national de Paris. Photograph by Pascal François/CNCS

“You live as long as you dance” was Rudolf Nureyev’s mantra throughout his meteoric rise as an internationally acclaimed dancer, choreographer, ballet master, and company director.  In celebration of the 20th anniversary of Nureyev’s death, and his remarkable career and art, the de Young Museum is exhibiting more than 70 costumes from ballets danced by the master from every period of his long career— Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, and Manfred among them— as well as a selection of photographs, , life-size dance videos, and ephemera that chronicles his illustrious life.  Rudolf Nureyev: A Life in Dance  explores Nureyev’s life in dance and his lifelong obsession with the details of fabric, decoration, and stylistic line.  As a meticulous performer, the Russian ballet master demanded costumes that were not only beautiful, but precisely engineered to suit the physical demands of his dance.  He also loved embellishment and these costumes reflect his highly-refined aesthetic, standing as fantasias of embroidery, jewels, and braid.  Rudolf Nureyev: A Life in Danceoffers an intimate view of the man behind the grand gestures, a man, as Mikhail Baryshnikov said, who “… had the charisma and simplicity of a man of the earth, and the inaccessible arrogance of the gods.” 

Organized in collaboration with the Centre national du costume de scène in Moulins, France, and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the de Young Museum is the exhibition’s exclusive U.S. venue. 

Great Christmas Gift!   The accompanying catalogue, Rudolf Nureyev: A Life in Dance, presents Nureyev’s extraordinary ballet costumes and career, recalling key dates and performances with more than 200 photographs in color and black-and-white. Bilingual text in English and French. 160 pages. Hardcover $29.95.  Available exclusively in the Museum Stores, or online at

Edgar Degas, “Two Dancers” (1905), Charcoal and pastel on tracing paper, 43 x 32 inches, The William S. Paley Collection, courtesy of MoMA.

Edgar Degas, “Two Dancers” (1905), Charcoal and pastel on tracing paper, 43 x 32 inches, The William S. Paley Collection, courtesy of MoMA.

Don’t Miss the Degas!  If you’re at the de Young Museum, don’t miss Edgar Degas’ spectacular charcoal drawing, “Two Dancers” (1905), in the second gallery of their other special exhibition,  The William S. Paley Collection: A Taste for Modernism  (September 15-December 30, 2012.)  This is a huge graphic work imbued with the very essence of dance—graceful movement.  No one understood and could convey the anatomy of the dancer and movement like Degas who created this as part of a series of preparing dancers.  Nearly half of all Degas’ paintings and pastels are of dancers.  When asked why he drew so many, he replied, ” It is only there that I can discover the movement of the Greeks.” (catalogue p. 36)  The exhibition itself includes of over 60 artworks from William S. Paley’s remarkable collection of 19th and early 20th century art.  Paley bought this Degas drawing in 1935 from the important French dealer Ambroise Vollard and it was rarely exhibited both before and after his purchase.

De Young Details: Rudolf Nureyev: A Life in Dance runs (October 6, 2012 – February 17, 2013).  The de Young Museum is located at 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. Parking: By entering Golden Gate Park from 8th Avenue (at Fulton Street), you can park for free for 4 hours on the street on John F. Kennedy Drive and have easy access to the museum. Otherwise, enter on 10th Avenue (at Fulton) and park at the Music Concourse Garage (M-F $4.50/hour and $5/hour on weekends). Tickets: $20 Adults; $16 seniors, students with I.D.; $10 youth 6-17; members and children free. Fee includes access to all museum collections and exhibitions including The William S. Paley Collection: A Taste for Modernism which closes Sunday, December 30, 2012.  More information: (415) 750-3600 or

December 7, 2012 Posted by | Art, Dance, de Young Museum | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment