YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

DANCE REVIEW : S.F. Ballet Makes 'Nutcracker' Sweet : Festive Perennial Makes Magic in San Diego

November 27, 1987|MARTIN BERNHEIMER | Times Music/Dance Critic

SAN DIEGO — It was Wednesday night, Nov. 25. The turkey still languished in the fridge. The pumpkin pie had yet to meet the oven. In most of the world it was still Thanksgiving Eve. But here in San Diego, it already was Christmas Eve.

It was time for sugar-plum ballerinas and macho cavaliers and mysterious sorcerers and dancing dolls and prancing mice and self-expanding trees and oh-so-cute kiddies fighting over a nutcracker toy. Yuck.

The idea might appeal to some terminally cheery folk. However, it made others--well, at least one other--contemplate the prospect of fwowing up.

A premature yule--yules seem to get more premature every year--may only be slightly disorienting to ordinary persons of good will. To the professional curmudgeons among us, however, such an event could be downright repulsive.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday November 28, 1987 Home Edition Calendar Part 6 Page 5 Column 5 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 23 words Type of Material: Correction
Marc Spradling's name was misspelled in a caption accompanying a review of the San Francisco Ballet production in San Diego of "The Nutcracker" in Friday's Calendar.

Your seasonally cranky scribe approached the Civic Theatre with trepidation. No. That's not quite right. He approached with visions of humbugs dancing in his unfestive head.

And then something strange, something miraculous, happened.

The curtain rose on the new San Francisco Ballet version of Tchaikovsky's infernal "Nutcracker," and magic descended.

The magic of this production began with the delirious decors of Jose Varona. They revealed a lavish network of adorable storybook vistas--a wintry street, a cozy Biedermeier home, an enchanted kingdom in which candy can pirouette and crusty old Mother Goose can harbor a full kiddie corps under her voluminous skirts.

Making affectionate and clever use of period-theater devices, Varona accommodated some nifty appearing-and-disappearing tricks. He mustered a lovely traveling panorama. He even devised a golf cart that masqueraded as a swan boat until, at the final curtain, the versatile vehicle flew away.

Varona provided the old narrative with a new framework remarkable for its wit, invention and charm.

"I wanted to create a spectacle for children that will appeal to the child in everyone," he wrote in a potentially cloying program note.

Sure, we thought. Something for children of all ages between 6 and 7 1/2.

It sounded like a drippy cliche. It sounded silly, even self-indulgent. Yuck again.

But Varona delivered exactly what he promised. He is a dangerously subversive fellow.

Other "Nutcrackers" may be more concerned with fancy dance per se. The once compelling Baryshnikov/ABT version probes for grown-up psychological verities with erotic overtones. This most innocent and most evocative of productions concentrates on taut, gentle, colorful fantasy, for better or worse.

Make it for better.

The sets and costumes don't make magic by themselves, of course. Lew Christensen's choreographic scheme of 1967, gracefully appended last year with contributions by Willam Christensen (the party scene) and Helgi Tomasson (details in Act II), remains bright, light and whimsical. The balance between character diversion and classical maneuver is always sensitively sustained.

The reconstituted San Diego Symphony played Tchaikovsky's irresistible score neatly on this occasion for the redoubtable Denis de Coteau. The only serious grouse involved the use of nasty-sounding canned voices in place of the boys choir in the snowflake episode.

The cast for this, the first of seven performances here, functioned like an ensemble of stylish, self-effacing virtuosos.

Evelyn Cisneros glittered tenderly as the Sugar Plum, deftly if not impeccably partnered by Alexander Topciy. Tracy-Kay Maier flitted on butterfly winglets, literally, in the symmetrical Waltz of the Flowers.

Simon Dow stalked the boards with such macabre bonhomie as Drosselmeyer that one doubly regretted his disappearance in the land of sweets. Val Caniparoli doubled effectively as a campy King of the Mice (now there was a death scene!) and a giddy Mother Goose, a.k.a. Ginger.

Elizabeth Loscavio tripped daintily through the mechanical doll charades. Jamie Zimmerman and Marc Spradling glided through the snow duet. Andre Reyes, Christopher Stowell and Alexi Zubiria jumped and kicked lustily as the three quasi-Ivans.

Anita Paciotti and Nigel Courtney defended grandparental honor crisply in Act I. The assorted representatives of chocolate, tea and Dresden managed their formula cameos with swift point.

A gaggle of locally recruited children surrounded and supported the talented Tiffany Billings as Clara and Kevin Osgood as her mini-cavalier. All performed as if these quaint romantic rituals were a way of life.

This "Nutcracker" marked the first installment in a three-year residency program for the San Franciscans sponsored by San Diego Performances. The beginning, obviously, was auspicious.

No humbug.

Los Angeles Times Articles