2014 Nutcracker Season, San Francisco Ballet

December 12 was San Francisco Ballet’s night to start its 2014 Nuts season, multiple castings, opportunities for corps members. With Martin West conducting the company’s orchestra, the audience enjoyed a buoyant performance, partially due to its success in Europe this summer. Mary Beth Smith, heading marketing and communications, remarked in the press room after the closing night performance of the company’s engagement at Theatre du Chatelet, where Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes made its 1909 debut, “The applause went on for twenty minutes. It was spectacular, and you know the Parisians know their ballet.”

Friday night featured Ricardo Bustamonte with extra flourishes and complete gallantry as Drosselmeyer; Ruben Martin Cintas and Katita Waldo made the Stahlbaums elegant, assured, hospitable. Jim Sohm outdid himself as Grandpapa; Kristi DeCaminada did a stint as Grandmere. Parents and small fry were fewer than remembered, but the numbers cohered in the overall scenic impression, minus a cast of thousands mould.

Clara Blanco danced her iconic doll, Esteban Hernandez made an impression as the Nutcracker out of the Box and Max Cauthorn in yellow Milliskin was willowy, off balance, technically excellent .

The transformation scene – from 1915 Panama-Pacific era privileged San Francisco to the dreamy exaggeration of furniture, presents, tree, mice and gas fireplace – continues to be impressive; mice scamper, toy soldiers execute the directions of the Nutcracker with his sabre, while Clara watches avidly. Sean Orza’s Mouse King exhibited brawn, plus elegaic agony after his leg was caught in the mouse trap, his dying crawl into the prompter’s pit, like the “Far Better Thing I Do’ from Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities.

Luke Ingham as Nutcracker Prince cuts a refreshing athletic image once out of Mask and Nut trappings. He’s gallant, but no nonsense, like a good Aussie invariably seems to be; his battement a la seconde is eagle sharp. Not a bad mixture. Audrey Armacost as Clara responded well to his partnering.

The arrival of the carriage brings its own magic with white and silver sleigh and pawing, prancing ponies, masks crowned with nodding plumes. The ancien regime could not have improved on these equines.

The snow monarch roles were handsomely filled by Vanessa Zahorian and Taras Domitro. following the snowflakes’ appearance under drifts of artificial flakes which continued to fall, audibly, during the entire number until the final grouping around the principals was almost obscured by its density. Early on Domitro stumbled a trifle; the fake blizzard may have contributed. However, his grand jetes and entrechats were his standard brilliant, Zahorian sailing through her share of virtuosity with the aplomb characteristic prior to her earlier injury.

After Intermission the curtain rose on the Conservatory’s evocation, with butterflies, lady bugs, and moths marking time with port de bras and pique arabesques before the arrival of The Sugar Plum Fairy (SPF) in the person of Mathilde Froustey. Froustey possesses the current ideal for the feminine ballerina abundantly; beautiful proportions, long neck, face of piquant charm,port de bras devoid of angled elbow, good jump, supple upper back, an intuitive emphasis whether in emphasis or response.

Luke Ingham’s mime was salutary, particularly good with whiskers. The SPF had decreed the entire dream troupe witness the recitation. While the Spanish pas de cinq was good, the Arabian trio especially well-balanced with Dana Genshaft, Daniel Devison-Oliveira and Anthony Spaulding, both intense and finished. Francisco Mumgamba’s Chinese shone with knife-like jumps. The French trio danced my not-so-favorite variation spritely, Wan Ting Zhao’s phrasing eye-catching. The Faberge trio burst out into Anatole Vilzak’s classic Russian variation led by Hansuke Yamamoto with Esteban Hernandez and Wei Wang.

Benjamin Stewart garnered a warm response as Smoky Bear with Louis Schilling and the bevy of San Francisco Ballet School students.

The circus tent and colleagues precede the Waltzing Flowers, who set off the SPF in this version of the Tchkaivsky classic. Bland, symmetrical and nicely executed, the ensemble is supposed to set off the central rose, but Froustey could be better served. However, the ensemble needs to have its musical share and the notes received skillful visualization.

The prelude to the Grand Pas de Deux in this version refers to the Chinoiserie tower bibelot Clara received in Act I as her Christmas gift. The SPF retrieves a tiara from a cushion supplied her by a uniformed attendant which she places on Clara’s head, then leads her to the mirror inside the open tower. Froustey’s brief escorting task was affectionate, reinforcing a singular feminine warmth she shares with Sophiane Sylve.

The double doors then close, the tower is turned, the doors reopen and out steps the adult Clara in gold and celadon tutu, Yuan Yuan Tan,to wow us; so ready she dispatches the gestures of awe and transforming admiration to the barest stroke, the flaw in otherwise a brilliant performance. Tan seems more accustomed to Luke Ingham with whom she should feel utterly secure, promising Tan as good or better partnering experienced with Damian Smith; the adagio considering Tan’s height in the running catch as the Tchaikovsky score soars was flawless. Tan’s face, with its feline qualities, registered satisfaction besides her usual aplomb. A nice, new note has appeared with the Act II cast witnessing the grand pas.

The variation reprises then followed, to warm applause, the aggregate coalesced to allow Drosselmeyer, couch and Clara to enter, for him to reassemble the Stahlaum mansion, Clara to awaken, clutch her toy and run towards Mother Stahlbaum’s arms as the curtain descended.

After this performance, the company goes into a two-a-day mode, two and seven p.m., a total of thirty performances, including two on Christmas Eve.

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