WEEKEND REVIEWS : Dance : Lavish Ballet Short on Warmth


Midway through Act I of the San Francisco Ballet “Nutcracker,” little Clara gets shunted off to the sidelines and becomes a peripheral figure: a nonentity in her own Christmas dream and a very tiny pretext for a million-dollar spectacle.

To those who come to the Orange County Performing Arts Center seeking only a display of company prowess, Clara’s fate at the hands of choreographers Lew Christensen, his brother Willam and current artistic director Helgi Tomasson could seem a blessed relief. Others, however, may find a winter chill dominating this sumptuous, traditional 1986 staging.

On Saturday, the opening of the company’s 10-performance engagement (including three rep performances), the coldness extended to Denis de Coteau’s conducting of the score. Well executed by the Pacific Symphony, his quick-frozen Tchaikovsky melted into lyricism only with “Waltz of the Flowers,” and by then it was too late.

Happily, designer Jose Varona compensated with several endearing novelties: a joyous dancing bear at the party, Act II courtiers who looked literally good enough to eat in their ice-cream sleeves and whipped-cream hats--plus a Mother Ginger who wore a house for a dress, complete with smoking chimneys.


Although the crucial transformation of the Nutcracker after the Mouse battle proved unimaginative, magic consultants John C. David and Paul Svengari made dancers mysteriously appear and disappear in both acts--while lighting designer David K.H. Elliott unleashed special effects of his own.

And the troops of children (recruited locally) did help--especially the sweet, solemn Katherine Kramer as Clara and the almost alarmingly self-possessed Ian Chambers as Drosselmeyer’s nephew and the Nutcracker Prince. As energetically played by Val Caniparoli, Drosselmeyer himself was grotesque looking but more childlike than any of the kids.

Tomasson will switch principals at every performance, but Saturday’s cast confirmed that he has polished the company to an exemplary refinement, ranging from the fine dancing snowflakes and flower corps right up to the glittering leads. Scheduled as the Sugar Plum Fairy next Saturday afternoon, Kristin Long turned her doll dance into an elegant index of her artistry. Peter Brandenhoff even made the bear into a Tomasson-style classicist.

Snow monarchs Katita Waldo and Stephen Legate skillfully met the challenge of their high-velocity, lift-laden roles--and Joanna Berman added warmth to her virtuosity in the no-less-demanding ballerina duties of “Waltz of the Flowers.” For grace under choreographic pressure, however, nobody surpassed Elizabeth Loscavio as the Sugar Plum Fairy: a performance meticulous in the execution of steps, yet majestic in scale.

Former Bolshoi and Royal Danish Ballet firebrand Yuri Posokhov partnered her nobly but, lacking even a solo in this version, he scarcely revealed his brilliance. Among the divertissement attractions, Sara Sessions and Jais Zinoun looked classy in the Arabian dance, Ming-Hai Wu jumped splendidly in the Chinese dance and Jose Martin exuded star presence as the chief Cossack in Anatole Vilzak’s lusty “Trepak.”

* San Francisco Ballet will dance a program of mixed repertory Tuesday-Thursday at 8 p.m. and then return to “The Nutcracker” next Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m., at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. $18-$55. (714) 556-2787.