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SFB’s Number Three – Home Grown

21 Feb

San Francisco Ballet’s Third 2018 Program included works by Helgi Tomasson and Val Caniparoli, both created for the 2008 season and then Myles Thatcher’s Ghost in the Machine, premiered in 2017. Tomasson’s classical choice, On a Theme of Paganini by Sergei Rachmaninov and Val’s use of Antonin Dvorak’s Quartet, musical selections were followed by Michael Nyman’s rather interminable contemporary sturm, a detriment to choreography and a withering challenge to the San Francisco dancers who met the marathon with spirit, dash and their usual competence. It also is a program filled with the excitement of dancers essaying roles for the first time, an invariable treat to balletomanes.

Tomasson gave himself both a challenge and a respite with his choice of Rachmaninoff’s familiar music. The audience probably was very familiar with the sound and the ebb and flow of the development. But nonetheless it is tricky to convey runs and phrases as well as the melody.

For this Tomasson performance Sasha de Sola, Wei Wang, and Max Cauthorn made their debuts as did Vitor Luiz who partnered Maria Kochetkova, with the corps de ballet in serried ranks. As principals de Sola and Kochetkova proved a distinct contrast in phrasing though both danced their assignments on the beat. The difference lay in their port de bras: Kochetkova more or less placed her arms in the necessary places, while de Sola’s arms flowed in and out of the final position, essentially the classic versus the lyric, also extensiona of their relative heights.

Wang and Cauthorn applied themselves to their roles with energy and enthusiasm and, for all his smaller physique, Luiz was clearly on the button.

Caniparoli’s Ibsen’s House is by far one of his most scenic ballets, decor and costumes credited to Sandra Woodall, whose absence in ballet credits may partly be explained by two years in a theatrical contract in Shanghai. That huge drapery upstage left, drawn back to accent the picture window, with transparent veiling through which many of the characters are seen arriving, is one of the most handsome stage designs in any company’s warehouse, a masterly revealing of the desperate, dissatisfied 19th century women Ibsen chose to depict.

The five women appear initially, led by Doris Andre who has assumed the Gabbler role created by Lorena Feijoo, Andre’s focus sharpening the use of her hand down her face and torso. Sofiane Sylve and Tiit Helimets personified the struggle of The Doll’s House, his implacable either/orness against which Sylve maneuvered in his confining supported turns and arabesques

Dores Andre and Vitor Luiz conveyed the relentless passion of Hedda Gabler.. Andre’s contained gestures etched the dilemma before she stretched her body and grappled with Luiz, whose fascination for his lover presented pauses and uncertainty in the midst of mutual passion. Sofiane Sylve and Tiit Helimets took on their Doll’s House assignment with zest, Sylve’s resistance in being partnered by the overbearing alpha male of Helimets struck a response in audience tension – mine at least.

Jennifer Stahl and MylesThatcher made me want to read Ghosts as did Kimberly Marie Olivier and Luke Ingham personifying the turbulent Lady from the Sea and the desperation of Rosmerholm embodied by Hannah Rose Hummel and Sean Orza.

Thatcher’s Ghost in the Machine enjoyed Alexander Nichols two harp-like strands angled against each other, changing color as the dancers tackled the overlong score. Hopefully Thatcher will find tidier music for his growing choreographic chops.

Nyman’s score certainly reflected Thatcher’s exploration of contemporary relations and communications – the push, pull, argument, negotiation, the uneven tension and resolution which seems today’s modus vivendi, an acute awareness of this energy by the choreographer. His visual demonstration of such prescience abounded in thrust arms, pushes, pulls in rapid entrances and exits by the five sets of dancers with Frances Chung and Jaime Garcia Castilla first and later Carlo di Lanno and Dores Andre, supported by Esteban Hernandez and Isabella de Vivo, Sasha de Sola proved to be the principal seeker of balance, supported at various points by Steven Morse, Ellen Rose Hummel dancing for the second time here with Max Cauthorn.

Since I abound in trivia and asides, I’ll mention the Ghosts in the Machine partnership of Andre and Di Lanno is reflected on Erik Tomasson’s cover of the company’s literature for Programs Two and Three. It also is apparent that soloists and principals frequently dance two ballets on a program and corps members seem now being assigned substantial roles. It makes for definite excitement, a wonderful chance to appraise the depth of the company.

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SFB’s Program 2 – US Balletic Bookends

16 Feb

That catchy summary was provided me by Angela Amerillas, one-time ballet student, social dance and health education professional. Come to think of it, she’s dead on; Program two encompassed not only George Balanchine’s Serenade but Justin Peck’s Rodeo Suite from Aaron Copland’s landmark music for Agnes de Mille’s landmark choreography for Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.In between Petyr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Aaron was John Adams’ music for Benjamin Millepied’s The Chairman Dances-Quartet for Two. Another note, come to think of it, is that all three choreographers have been connected with New York City Ballet.

Another interesting note was the casting of principals in two works. I assume this will hold true with other performances, not a little due to giving the artists a real chance to perform, opening other dates for opportunity in the rich roster of SFB’s principals and soloists.

Aside from the glacial blue tutus the women wear in Serenade, the presence of Carlo di Lanno and Mathilde Froustey in soloist roles conveyed unusual emotional depth. Di Lanno made of the partner a major figure where it usually is a cipher to display the woman. Froustey danced her assignment connecting not only with the dancing, but acknowledged the audience something of a rarity with dancers schooled in Balanchine abstraction; it’s refreshing, beyond her evident strength and correctness.

Yuan Yuan Tan, hair-loosened, was the woman who is thwarted by Jennifer Stahl whose flowing hair provides arms and hands over the face of Luke Ingham. Sean Bennet, Alexandre Cagnet, Nathaniel Remez and Alexander Reneff-Olson were the quartet called upon to support the corps.

Danced by the company, Serenade continues to provide enormous visual and emotional satisfaction.

The Chairman Dances to John Adams’ music seemed consistent with Benjamin Millepied’s desire to be “of the times;” that he designed the costumes also seems consistent with such declaration. Music and choreography seemed studiously modern in contrast to Copland’s adaptations of American folk tunes and Tchaikovsky’s own European influences. The first of the three parts found Maria Kochetkova fooling around expertly with Carlo di Lanno who, off and on, was grinning with apparent enjoyment, while Kochetkova danced the whimsical flirt, only occasionally acknowledging what a superb partner supported her in Millepied’s quirky choreography.

Among other things, what follows are two sets of duets by the same gender, the first with Ulrich Birkkjaer and Benjamin Freemantle, the second with Yuan Yuan Tan and Jennifer Stahl, the men in creamy trousers, the women in full-length white with slits. Hard to say whether it was comment on gender relationships from friendship to romantic struggle. Each ended abruptly in a blackout. The audience response was warm, but brief.

Then came Justin Peck’s Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes, taken from Aggie and Aaron’s landmark ballet for Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. This suite of dances was premiered by New York City Ballet in 2015, and debuted at this year’s Gala on January 18. Esteban Hernandez led the opening trio with Hansuke Yamamoto and Wei Wang in the beige striped costumes Peck designed with the collaboration of Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung. Jaime Garcia Castilla came on in echoing blue with four others; later there were additional six males helping to dance up the genuine storm and tribute to the male dancer in ballet to music celebrating their importance some sixty odd years earlier. Ulrik Birkkjaer blended into the proceedings with a humorous touch, partnering Dores Andre whose own touch echoed his, creating a silken sophistication along with the hoe-down and wistful musical moments.

Note: I have rarely seen Yamamoto and Castilla dance with such scintillating enjoyment, Hernandez tossed off his opening declaration and subsequent high jinks with clarity and nonchalance, owning his assignment.

Addtional note: Esteban competed at the Jackson USAIBC in 2010 receiving an encouragement award before later earning a junior Grand Prix at the Youth America contest and completing training with The Royal Ballet. Four years earlier, in 2006, brother Esteban earned the junior Gold at Jackson, joining San Francisco Ballet and advancing to soloist before joining Het National Ballet, now a principal with the English National Ballet. If one were to delve into the history of San Francisco Ballet,winners of Jackson awards are studded throughout its roster. It has been a treat to have seen them all at their professional beginnings.

Ruth Ann Koesun, 1928-2018

16 Feb

Ruth Ann Koesun died in her native Chicago and is memorialized at some length
in Anna Kisselgoff’s obituary in the New York Times. I very much recommend it. Not only was she a member of Ballet Theatre when it toured the country, but like Sono Osato, she testified to Lucia Chase’s taste in dancers.

Talent was the thing in Ballet Theatre; if the dancer was bi-racial, and of Asian descent, they were welcome, setting the precedent reflected in American Ballet Theatre today.

Koesun was very much a part of my early ballet education, seeing the company in Ontario in 1948 and when it danced at the Biltmore Theater in Los Angeles. For the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo it was always the Philharmonic Auditorium. Small boned and slight, Koesun’s delicacy in Billy the Kid as Billy’s Mother and Sweetheart made quite an impression as well as her insouciance in Jerome Robbins’ Interplay, She was definitely an intrinsic part of those yeasty early years of Ballet Theatre.

I had one opportunity to meet and talk with her, and while I have forgotten the conversation, I remember her sharing the enormous scrapbook she possessed of her time with Ballet Theatre. My main carryaway from the encounter was the awesome reality of spending time with someone whose dancing had shaped my perceptions and given me so much pleasure.

San Francisco Ballet’s Margot Fonteyn: Frances Chung

27 Jan

Writing about San Francisco Ballet’s decade-long absence from Sleeping Beauty brought me down memory lane to the 190-1951 tour of Sadler’s Wells Ballet of the United States and Canada, enabling me to see Margot Fonteyn, Moira Shearer and Beryl Grey and the host of other memorable British dancers. I think their experience before and during World War II provided a special depth and understanding to their fantasy roles, and certainly a maturity to which current occupants of the roles could aspire. Dancers are serious in their technical application; it is life helping them to provide depth to their characterizations. Current stagings have to labor against such vivid memories I saw at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles in November, 1950.

That preaching aside, it’s good to see the Jens-Jacob Worsaae production again, embellished by the Royal Danish Ballet commissioned Act III setting, emphasizing the movement from sumptuous Russian bearing to the influence of the French pastorale setting favored by the Louis monarchs XIII, XIX, XV and XVI. It’s my understanding that San Francisco Ballet purchased the Act III production outright. I hope the Tsar’s Act III top heavy paraphernalia is adapted, however gamely worn by Val Caniparoli.

The Act I and II settings with the multiple steps, the glimpses of the Onion-topped churches and the sweep of gold-encrusted garnet velvet gowns are breath-exciting visions, enhanced by the various Fairies. Orthodox Russian priests reinforced the sense of this deeply Russian occasion. The silver icicles dripping over the black sweeping fabric of Carabosse, Fairy of Darkness, the haughty, malignant, chilly Katita Waldo and her attendants added a roach-like invasion of the garnet and pastel setting. Enrico Cecchetti, creator of the role in 1890, would likely have approved.

With the various fairy variations renamed, it seemed to me the bestowal to Aurora of characteristics remained entirely the task of Carabosse. In particular, remembering Yuri Possokhov’s comments regarding promise with the arrival of lilacs, Jennifer Stahl’s harbinger of spring remained tight buds, instead of open flowering, possible with long-limbed interpreters.

Forward to Act II, with a competent rendition of the waltz by the San Francisco Ballet students, the arrival of Aurora with the quivering strings was fully recompensed by Chung’s slight inclination of curiosity mixed with the exuberance of knowing she had arrived at sweet sixteen. In the interplay with her parents, there was emotional connection mixed with the awareness of her status, and the exchange regarding marriage choice with the four attendant princes was not only “What’s this all about?” but also, “Okay, I get it,” in socially adept signals, making me doubly excited. Forward she stepped, calm, expectant and waiting. En pointe, the arm rose and dropped with a measured calm, allowing the audience to settle in with expectation. On Aurora progressed, focused, attentive, confident as the Princes from Uzbekistan, Ukraine, Mongolia and Siberia offered their hand and roses to the nubile royal. The suitors, Benjamin Fremantle, Mingxuan Wang, Solomon Golding and Sean Orza, were suitably impressed. Never for a moment was Aurora other than expected, socially, technically, but with slight gestural nuances accenting her classical proportion and delivery. Clarity, consistency and Chung’s cognisence of the role demonstrated the care with which the choreography was constructed, and Chung was a winner all the way.

Making his appearance in Act II, Vitor Luiz carried the proportion further, accented by white wig and tights, affable but with distance. Madison Keesler as the Countess tried her best, but it was no show from the beginning. Sean Orza appeared, this time as the Prince’s Attendant, and all the niceties of the court ladies and gentlemen dancing set the stage for the gentle melancholy Prince Desire would express, to be broken by the Lilac Fairy, leading into the vision scene. Here, the San Francisco, the green-clothed corps de ballet provided a skillful beckon and barrier between Aurora and Prince Desire.

The progression through a much more lacy vine barrier than I remember gave Waldo additional moments of malignancy before the Lilac Fairy and the Prince
confront sleeping Aurora in a most delightful possible chinoiserie gazebos.Then the brief coaching, the kiss, awakening and fated recognition plus pledge.

Worsaae’s design for Act III gave audience and dancers a sweeping landing and steps backstage center to emphasize the front-and-center event of marriage and the court. The courtiers, looking like models for Fragonard, Boucher or Poussin, provided dance and audience before just two of the several variations performed prior to Aurora and Desire’s pas de deux. Sean Orza, in his third assignment, was Puss in Boots to Wanting Zhao’s playful White Cat, more provocative and adept than some of her predecessors. Hansuke Yamamoto took the role created by Enrico Cecchetti in the Blue Bird pas de deux with his customary elegant diffidence; Julia Rowe, as the enchanted princess, supposedly learning to fly, her port de bras was more suited to current abstractions than Petipa’s classicism.

Chung and Luiz brought their understated correctness to the Grand Pas de Deux,; I couldn’t help but think that Royal Ballet and Canadian training may well have shaped their sense of comme il faut before cell phones blunted social proprieties. They brought the performance to a warm, almost rapturous ending with many in orchestra standing as Chung received pink roses, providing Luiz with one as thanks for such gallant support.

Number One of San Francisco Performances’ Pivot Series

26 Jan

San Francisco Performances has started a Pivot Series, running January 23 to 27 at American Conservatory Theatre’s Strand Theatre on Market Street. For number one, there was a sold-out audience for Benjamin Millepied’s L.A. Project.

For me the most exciting part was learning and seeing Francisco Mungamba,
who had reached soloist status before leaving San Francisco Ballet, was a part of the small ensemble formed by Millepied who seems determined to clothe his dancers in jeans, checked shirts, lengthy chemises, as two numbers seemed to evidence. The third, and middle number, a film titled Hearts and Arrows placed sneakers on eight dancers against the concrete expanses of the Los Angeles River culverts, graffiti against walls, lumbering and lengthy railroad engine with cars, under sun-drenched bleakness, like an introduction to some action movie. All speak to Millepied’s desire to bring classical dance into the 21st century; not a tutu or toe shoe appeared in any of the three numbers, and the third piece, a quartete, was entirely male.

Philip Glass’ lengthy, semi-monotone works provided the musical impetus for
Clearer, the initial pas de deux, and the aforementioned Hearts and Arrows,. Mad Rush for the first played with impressive skill by Timo Andres and featured Janie Taylor and Adrian Freeland, Jr., an extremely competent partner whose technical skill was only hinted at because of his attentive support of the slender, abundantly blonde-haired Taylor; her tresses seemed to provide the occasional grace note or tempest to the music. Their partnering was marked by frequent, clear eye contact, embraces from the floor and the occasional body wrapped around the partner. The subtext seemed to explore racial equity; if that was the intent the pas de deux was a raving success though the music seemed excessively long to make that admirable point.

The film Hearts and Arrows was supported by Van Cleef & Arpels, though there was virtually nothing of gems on display in the setting, save the dancers: Stephanie Amurao, Anthony Bryant, Aaron Carr, Randy Castillo, Julie Elchtan, Charlie Hodges, Morgan Lugo, Nathan Makolandra and Rachelle Rafailedes. They leaped, twirled, ran and coalesced to Philip Glass’ String Quartet No.3 “Mishima”, performed by the Kronos Quartet. Against the harsh sun of the Los Angeles area, the subtitle “Mishima” carried with it a fatal tone of struggle, fast-paced fleeing, coalescing and support.

For the third and final number Sarabande, Millepied selected Johann Sebastian Bach’s Partitas: Solo Flute in A Minor, and Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin with no instrumental credit given.

Two film dancers, Aaron Carr and Nathan Makolandra, appeared with Axel Ibot and Francisco Mungamba, now sporting a lustrous dark beard and moustache added to his remarkably polished classical technique.

The Millepied placed the four men within the classical repertoire with multiple
jetes, large and small, pirouettes, ensemble encounters and brief pas de deux, a wonderful display of technical mastery clothed in blue denim and checked shirts. It also displayed the range of physique which makes ballet going and casting one of the pleasures of balletomania.

A brief Q&A followed with Millepied in dungarees and a baseball cap before the audience was invited into the Strand Lobby for post-performance red wine.

Celestal Three Ways: San Francisco Ballet Gala 2018

21 Jan

There was the title for San Francisco Ballet’s 85th Gala – Celestial at San Francisco’s Opera House January 18, 2018. There also was the evening and its rain drops, as if to emphasize the glitter, glam and glitz of the crowd.

In the Press Room before curtain, there was a sense of welcome to see colleagues arriving for the evening, individuals rarely seen outside opening nights but still familiar, part of what makes theatre going and writing so pleasurable. Aimee Ts’ao who writes previews for the San Jose Mercury; Paul Parish writing for The Bay Area Reporter ; Toba Singer for Culture Vulture a post shared with Joanna Harris; Claudia Bauer for dancetabs.com; Carol Escoda who can be found with KQED, Huffington Post and Dance Europe;Rita Felciano with Dance View Times: Allan Ulrich for The San Francisco Chronicle and SF Gate; flame-haired Teri McCollum with her Odette’s Ordeal Facebook page; Leslie Katz who resides over culture at the S.F. Examiner.

The seats assigned Margaret Swarthout and me were at the right aisle back, an excellent spot to appraise gowns, behavior and notables – Thuy Vu, elegant in rusty maroon red. In front of us, stringy straps over substantial shoulders and upper right marked by a tattoo, used opera glasses, little finger spread to the max; just to the left elaborate coiffure, strings of seed pearls atop pinky beige chiffon and cocktail glasses periodically in use during the performance, heads bending sporadically to obscure the view.

On the aisle guests accommodated two or three trains, one in off blue which bubbled like protective shipping material, another like spring flowers clustered pell mell behind a knee length skirt front. I spotted an appreciable hoop skirt and wondered, as I have yearly, what it must be like to maneuver structure and material into an opera house seat. I currently have to sling elbow crutches onto the floor space of the chairs in front of me.

The lights dimmed about ten minutes after the stated hour, newcomers were still arriving and crawling past us as the orchestra commenced the opening chord of The Star Spangled Banner, followed by Trustee Carl F. Pascarella’s acknowledgment of funders, sponsors and organizers of the Gala and seasonal proceedings. These facts were underscored by the brochure featuring several pictures of principal dancers by Erik Tomassen, backed by approximations of celestial lights.

Little Waltz to the light music of Eric Coates was perhaps Helgi Tomasson’s first choreographic essay, or at least quite an early one. An ensemble piece for students at the School of American Ballet in 1985, it also marked the year Tomasson became artistic director of San Francisco Ballet, its simplicity displaying the beginnings of Tomasson’s choreographic craft. Displaying students of San Francisco Ballet’s school, some half-dozen young men and two or three contingents of young women, some on point performed in a bland, if pleasing demonstration of what the school is producing. Hopefully passion will emerge.

One of Jerome Robbin’s Chopin essays, In The Night, a pas de six, separated by three, enjoyed Roy Bogas at the piano. Bogas has played for San Francisco Ballet since its 1958 tour of Latin America. For the Gala he supported Mathilde Froustey,Benjamin Freemantle, Jennifer Stahl and Tiit Helmets, Sarah Van Patten and Luke Ingham in Robbins’ depiction of three couples, the women is icy blue, rust and black. Having seen this wonderful ballet interpreted by Nutnaree Pipit-Suksun, Muriel Maffre, Lorena Feijoo with male principals like Pierre Francois Villanoba, Stephen Legate and Yuri Possokhov, the challenge was considerable. Froustey was strong, her moments of emphasis correct, Freemantle needing to be a tad more swept away. Tiit Helimets was picture perfect in the role, Stahl, still tentantive and involved in sheer execution. Van Patten and Ingham, not exceptionally stormy, still conveyed the third couple’s tempest.

The evenings first classical pas de deux was the Bluebird, lifted from the final act of Sleeping Beauty; it suffered from being out of scenery and context. My first exposure came with Sadler’s Wells and Brian Shaw’s fleet rendition, perhaps with Julia Farron as Princess Florene.. Wei Wang, though not terribly air bound, gave sharp emphasis to his sissonnes, while Doris Andre masked her remarkable acuity with an uncharacteristic calm where excitement could have been valid. Both dancers suffered from a flaccid tempo, hopefully corrected before Tuesday’s opening.

The young Canadian choreographer Robert Binet’s vision was seen here for the first time through the clarity of Frances Chung and Joseph Walsh with Natal’ya Feygina at the piano. Titled Children of Chaos, the work carried implications of disaster, suffering and loss, effectively conveyed by Chung and Walsh.

Le Corsaire was switched to the final number before intermission, danced by Sasha de Sola and Angelo Greco, she smooth, delicate, he vital, covering ground with precision, both exciting the crowd and leaving them in a gratifying high.

Letting Go opened the Gala’s second half with Yuan Yuan Tan in full length chiffon, partnered by Carlo di Lanno in Edward Liang’s pas de deux premiered in 2015 in Hong Kong. It is a piece full of languorous sayonara touches with Tan wonderfully accented by Di Lanno.

August Bournonville’s La Sylphide provided the evening’s nose gay, introducing Ulrich Birkkjaer as James to Maria Kochetkova’s Sylphide. And what a treat it was, Birkkjaer dancing something intrinsic to his career with the Royal Danish Ballet, his torso vibrating his desire to enfold the Sylph in his arms and Kochetkova’s portrait the image of fey feminine allure. The irony of the pas de deux is neither touches the other, the strength in jumps and turns conveying James’ impatient ardor.

The pas de deux from Stars and Stripes, switched to the second half of the program, is a work where a certain earthiness is not only allowed, but desired, In Balanchine’s tribute to hambone Americana.The “aw shucks” and “what’s it to you”, Jacques d’Amboise and Melissa Hayden set the flavor. In San Francisco Ballet’s first interpretation of Balanchine’s take on this rah-rah July Fourth Americana, David McNaughton and Evelyn Cisneros were memorable. Ana Sophia Scheller and Vitor Luiz, well matched in size and temperament, were technically easily up to speed, but lacked that particular spirit; theirs was a smoother Latin American polish; I just missed Norte Americano rawness.

Justin Peck’s Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes is his interpretation of Aaron Copland’s music for Agnes de Mille and required some adjusting for me, but I think De Mille would have commended this talented debut. Seen here after its premiere with New York City Ballet, it veers from cowpoke to leaping beige and light blue striped leotards traveling horizontally across space in ensembles of three, five and six and accented by Sofiane Sylve, mostly in black with red trunks. She punctuated the maleness, and Carlo Di Lanno in off-white chemise and fluid trousers, partnered her with dash.

In all, Peck provided San Francisco Ballet’s men with an absolutely rousing end to the Gala.

Twelve Years with the Tomasson Nutcracker

19 Dec

It actually could be thirteen which would make San Francisco Ballet’s current production of The Nutcracker a genuine adolescent. With the locale as 1915 San Francisco and the Panama-Pacific Exposition, Tomasson’s team of designers came up with a local winner, the Exposition which gave us the makings of the current Japanese Tea Garden, the Palace of Fine Arts and the landfill now known as The Marina. It also gave “Baghdad by the Bay” its first taste as a convention town; you only need to read how many organizations and fraternal associations used the Fair as its excuse to come to San Francisco. Plus the seasonal production of Nutcrackers everywhere functions as one of the biggest moneymakers in a ballet company’s fiscal projections; San Francisco’s prices are jaw-dropping.

For anyone with a sense of local history, the opening slides are a bit like Henry Lewis Gates’ “Finding Your Roots,” and any one with relatives three or four generations back, the nostalgia can get pretty heavy. I mustn’t get started, for such facts can delude one into thinking they own the place, impossible with current technology.

There were several “firsts” in attending the 2017 opening December 14 for me; I don’t think I am totally wrong to think there have been added touches in the execution and dash of certain roles, along with the projection of a mass of roses in the opening moments of Act II.

Reuben Martin-Cintas, both faculty member of San Francisco Ballet’s School and listed as a principal character actor, was a pleasant, but mainly neutral principal dancer during his active career with the company, noted for his height and skillful partnering. His reading of Herr Drosselmeyer revealed the capacity to involve himself throughout, both a surprise and pleasure.

As Harlequin in the first act Max Cauthorn stretched yellow-Milliskin legs and torso with singular aplomb followed by Lauren Parrot as the pink tutu and heavily curled doll so admired by Clara before James Sofranko danced, hidden behind a bear skin which must have been very warm. Doll and Harlequin skimmed across the stage in Clara’s opening dream. There were the usual dances, the tussles over the Nutcracker Drosselmeyer provides Clara, the girls cradling their dolls to be interrupted by the drums and horns of the boys.

The transformation scene of the Stahlbaum living room magnifies not only the Christmas tree traditionally rising to monumental heights, but transforms the packages into a minor labyrinth giving the mice a handy cover; the fireplace and sideboard provide the space for the Nutcracker/Prince to position himself and the gun battery of the soldiers to emerge. From the package heights the Rat King stands in all his egocentric glory, his grandiosity and protesting downfall conveyed with gusto by Jean-Paul Simeon.

This may have been the first time I’ve seen Joseph Walsh in a traditionally classic role and was I impressed; his was a la seconde steady at 45 degrees. In particular, his wonderful mime at the opening of Act II was clear and so well phrased. His partnering Maria Kochetkova was also admirable.

Let me insert my admiration for Frances Chung and Vitor Luiz as the Monarchs of the Snow ending Act I, impeccable. Frances Chung’s sense of proportion is breath-taking to witness; for my money, she is San Francisco Ballet’s Margot Fonteyn. For whatever reason, these roles deserve curtain calls they never get.

As for Act II itself, it looks as if a mass of bouquets has been added to the filigree decor which heretofore has provided a near bland backdrop for the traditional variations. The production team might consider more filigree for further distinction.

Sasha de Sola presided with distinction over the brood of bugs, butterflies and roses, serene and technically secure. As for the variations Lonnie Weeks’ elevation in the Chinese was notable and the trio in the Russian invariably welcome with Esteban Hernandez in the middle, flanked by Messrs Wharton and Kessler. The Gaiety trio with the flutes still looks floosy and Mother Ginger is diverting with the bear adding a head stand to his usual antics. Finally, Clara enters a grown-up size of her Christmas gift to be whirled around and emerge as Maria Kochetkova. Her pas de deux with Joseph Walsh lacked for nothing save perhaps a smidgeon of warmth.

I forgot to mention that one enduring period touch of luxe in the production can be noted on the mother escorting her daughter to Drosselmeyer’s shop for a last minute gift. Le dernier cri of the early twentieth century’s women’s fashion, the late Martin Packledinaz brushed shoulders with genius with that one. In addition, San Francisco Ballet was handing out small white with black dot cuddly toys to the first 500 children under twelve arriving on opening night plus planning the same generosity three additional evenings before Christmas; it was a charming touch seeing the recipients with pleasantly dazed looks on their faces.