Festivities Highlight San Francisco Ballet's 75th Nutcracker


On Christmas Eve, 1944, San Francisco Ballet launched an American tradition by presenting the country's first full-length Nutcracker. Fittingly, the tradition has a distinguished pedigree—the then Artistic Director Lew Christensen prepared for the ballet by consulting George Balanchine and Alexandra Danilova, who were visiting San Francisco with the Ballet Russes de Monte Carlo in November of 1944. Seventy-five years and five total Nutcracker productions later, the tradition is going stronger than ever, and San Francisco Ballet is celebrating the Diamond Anniversary of the Nutcracker with a series of festive events. The Company will give away 75 pairs of Nutcracker tickets and signed pointe shoes, share exclusive 75th anniversary Nutcracker stories, and invite users to reconnect online over their own Nutcracker memories.

San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson's Nutcracker. (© Erik Tomasson)
San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson's Nutcracker. (© Erik Tomasson)

Sunday, November 3rd San Francisco Ballet brought together artists and scholars from the past and present of Nutcracker in America to discuss the history of the Company's tradition. Guests included Joan Coffey-Caton Vickers and Janet Sassoon Upton, original members of the 1944 production; UC Irvine's Jennifer Fisher, PhD, Nutcracker scholar and author of Nutcracker Nation. Also participating was a panel of dancers who performed as Clara in SF Ballet's productions throughout the past 75 years. Some of these previous Claras have gone on to have distinguished careers in other fields, including Margaret Bates, MD (Clara in '62 and '63), SF Ballet's Board of Trustees member Catherine Slavonia, PhD ('78), CalArts faculty member Ariel Osterweis, PhD ('85), Articulating Body's Marimba Gold Watts ('92), and Caroline Hearst ('04), who performed the role of Clara in 2004, when Helgi Tomasson's Nutcracker premiered.

On December 10, Nutcracker characters will appear at Holiday Heroes, a seasonal party at Oracle Park benefiting the Bay Area's underserved children. Claras and other student performers from the past 75 years of San Francisco Ballet's Nutcracker will attend the December 11 opening night performance, and San Francisco Ballet School alumni who have appeared in the Nutcracker roles of Clara, soldiers, party children, etc., will fill the War Memorial Opera House. The Opera House decorations will include romantic snowfalls and twinkling lights, and the 75th anniversary commemorative book will be available free of charge to all guests.

Preceding the matinee performance of Nutcracker on Sunday, December 15, The Nutcracker Benefit Luncheon returns to Zellerbach Rehearsal Hall to benefit the San Francisco Ballet's School and Youth Programs and the San Francisco Ballet School scholarship fund. Participation in this year's luncheon is free to members of the Boys & Girls Club of San Francisco (BGCSF) and the Bay Area. In addition to activities, such as crafts and a Build-a-Bear station, guests will have the opportunity to pose for photos with Nutcracker characters.

Helgi Tomasson's first, and San Francisco Ballet's current, production of Nutcracker dates from 2004. The Victorian style home Christmas is set in San Francisco during the 1915 world's fair, the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition. The production features designs by Tony Award-winners Michael Yeargan (scenic) and Martin Pakledinaz (costume), lighting design by James F. Ingalls, and projection design by Wendall K. Harrington.

For more information and tickets, see https://www.sfballet.org/productions/nutcracker/