Tag Archives: Ruben Martin Cintas

SFB from Nuts to 2017


Okay, so I’ve reviewed San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker before. Like, well, five times. It’s a little humbling when you pen a shiny new review, only to discover that you’ve unwittingly used much of the exact same wording in past reviews. Actually, it’s embarrassing, or would have been, if I hadn’t caught myself before submitting THIS REVIEW of Nut’s opening night to Bachtrack. And when it came to penning a few words here, for The Classical Girl, whaddya know, the same thing started happening.

So let’s do this instead of risking self-plagiarism, not to mention boring you. What changes annually in an established production is the casting and the dance performance. Costumes, lighting, scenic design, the musical score—no changes. You can find my “baseline” review HERE, complete with links to past reviews. Read first… or not.

And now, without further ado, here are 14 Really Great Things worth mentioning

1) The gorgeous set: an Edwardian house with a posh living room, circa 1915, that I really want to live in. Act 1 just flies, with pantomime and dances that are elegant and unfettered. It’s why I can watch this production over and over.

2) Grooving on the little kids in the audience, hushed and wide-eyed and totally absorbed in everything happening, especially Drosselmeyer’s magic. Their hushed intake of breath when the Nut doll turned life-sized in a clever shifting of boxes (or however they do it. Six times now, and I still don’t get some of the “magic” tricks. Isn’t that so cool? Bravo, SFB.)

© Erik Tomasson

© Erik Tomasson

3) Rubén Martín Cintas’ Uncle Drosselmeyer, particularly compelling as he rose from within the fog during Clara’s dream, at the commencement of The Best Music Ever, and where he made Very Psychedelic Things happen.

4) The Best Music Ever = as the Christmas tree keeps growing and growing, Drosselmeyer does his mysterious stuff, and the music reaches this thundering crescendo. In a lightning-fast set change, furniture and wrapped presents are whisked away, replaced by wildly oversized ones and in the blink of an eye we’ve all been shrunk to mouse size. Best. Moment. Ever. Kudos to the incomparable San Francisco Ballet Orchestra and music director Martin West.

5) Opening night’s Mouse King’s (Alexander Reneff-Olson) antics. So entertaining, I kinda started rooting for him. Hilarious, too, was Dec 27th matinee’s Mouse King, Benjamin Freemantle, when he grabbed a big hunk of cheese and gnawed on it, dropping it in shock at the BOOM of the cannon the toy soldiers set off. Never noticed that detail before. Crack me up.

6) The snow. And more snow. And more. Opening night’s Snow Queen and King Mathilde Froustey and Carlo Di Lanno were equally sublime, in this brilliantly staged Land of Snow.

Jennifer Stahl in Tomasson's Nutcracker. (© Erik Tomasson)

Jennifer Stahl in Tomasson’s Nutcracker.
(© Erik Tomasson)

7) Little scuttling ladybugs, in the Act II opener, so cute you could scream. Wonderful use of the kids from the SF Ballet school, whose dancing is genuinely enjoyable to watch.

8) Sofiane Sylve’s elegant, never-too-sugary Sugar Plum Fairy. Quietly perfect.

9) Seeing corps dancers Isabella DeVivo and Mingxuan Wang dance Snow Queen and King on Dec 27th matinee. Occasional unsteadiness, but otherwise a delight to watch them, the way they ended each passage and/or step with regal finesse. I’ve seen DeVivo in soloist roles before; she made my 2016 promotion wish list (http://wp.me/p3k7ov-Cn) but I’ve never seen Mingxuan Wang in a big role. Wow, he did great. Give him more!

10) In Spanish Dance, seeing former trainee and new corps member Natasha Sheehan living up to the buzz she’s generated.

11) WanTing Zhao in Arabian Dance on opening night. She owns this role. Sexy, sinuous, classical, mysterious, like something out of an opium-laced dream. And she arrives onstage inside an oil lamp carried onstage by her partners Daniel Deivison-Oliveira and Anthony Vincent. Way cool.

12) The pleasure of watching Max Cauthorn (also on my promotion wish list) continue to dance really well, particularly in Russian Dance on Dec 27th matinee. And speaking of Russian…

13) Finally learning when not to blink as the Russian Dance commences (a millisecond before the music) and the three dancers leap out from their respective papered Fabergé eggs. Gotta see it to appreciate it. An iconic holdover from a past staging, choreographed by Anatole Vilzak.

14) Hansuke Yamamoto dancing as Nut Prince on Dec 27th matinee. A longtime soloist, it was wonderful seeing him in this lead role. He might fall short of the powerhouse presence of some of the company’s male principals, but in its place he offers such graciousness, likeability, and clean technical work, with feather-soft landings to the jumps. Paired nicely with Koto Ishihara in the Grand Pas de Deux, whose performance was a solid notch up from last year, where she seemed a touch green, tentative in her pirouettes and presentation. Very rewarding to watch a dancer like this mature and develop artistically.

I love the way artistic director Helgi Tomasson gives his younger, newer dancers an opportunity to shine in solos during the Nut run. Here are castings and pairings that I wish I could have seen as well (some of which didn’t actualize due to injuries):

Sugar Plum Fairy

  • Jahna Frantziskonis
  • Norika Matsuyama
  • Elizabeth Mateer (new this year)
  • Isabella DeVivo

Queen and King of the Snow

  • Koto Ishihara, Francisco Mungamba
  • Elizabeth Mateer, Steven Morse
  • Norika Matsuyama, Hansuke Yamamoto
  • Isabella DeVivo, Max Cauthorn

Grand Pas de Deux

  • Lauren Strongin, Wei Wang
  • Julia Rowe, Angelo Greco (new this year)
  • WanTing Zhao, Tiit Helimets


The company’s 2017 repertory season begins on Jan 24th with Program 1, featuring Tomasson’s “Haffner Symphony,” Bubeníček’s “Fragile Vesssels” and Justin Peck’s “In the Countenance of Kings.” Program 2 follows right on its heels on Jan 26th and features Ratmansky’s “Seven Sonatas,” Possokhov’s “Optimistic Tragedy” and Forsythe’s Pas/Parts 2016 (which I reviewed HERE.) Performances of these two programs are intertwined, date-wise, and will finish on Feb 4 and 5 respectively. And then, look out, because Frankenstein, a co-production with The Royal Ballet, opens on Feb 17th and you’re right in thinking this is going to be one unique, talked-about production. (Read my review of it HERE.) I’ll be leaving links for future program reviews here, as well. Look for those in mid-and-late March.

Want to know about new dancers and promotions for the 2016-17 season? Here you go!


  • Carlo Di Lanno                 Principal
  • Sasha de Sola                   Principal (just promoted! Effective Jan 2017)
  • Francisco Mungamba       Soloist
  • Julia Rowe                           Soloist
  • Wei Wang                            Soloist
  • WanTing Zhao                    Soloist
  • Blake Kessler                     Corps de Ballet (from apprentice)

New Company Members/Level

  • Ludmila Bizalion                Corps de Ballet
  • Angelo Greco                      Hired as soloist, promoted Feb 2017 to principal (Yay! Congrats!)
  • Elizabeth Mateer                Corps de Ballet
  • Aaron Robison                    Principal Dancer
  • Natasha Sheehan              Corps de Ballet (from SFB trainee program)

New Apprentices

  • Alexandre Cagnat
  • Shené Lazarus
  • Davide Occhipinti
  • Nathaniel Remez
  • Isabella Walsh

Congratulations to all San Francisco Ballet dancers and trainees on another successful Nut run, and I look forward to seeing all of you dance in 2017!

Shades, Ghosts and Birds: San Francisco Ballet’s Program 3


My first glimpse of the magic that is “The Kingdom of the Shades” came when I was sixteen, via the opening sequences of the film The Turning Point. The music, the image of twenty-four women attired in white, descending a tiered ramp through silvery lighting, striking arabesques in perfect synchronicity, haunted me. Particularly once I got some backstory on La Bayadère. In Act II, Solor, a warrior, is grieving the death of his beloved Nikiya, a temple dancer, and this scene, in the Kingdom of the Shades, is merely an opium-induced hallucinogenic dream of Solor’s. It is, I quickly learned, one of the crowning glories of the corps de ballet repertoire.

On Saturday night I finally saw “The Kingdom of the Shades” live, performed by the San Francisco Ballet. It was an unforgettable image, the most compelling work on the night’s triple-bill performance. As I can’t very well show you what I saw live, here’s the Bolshoi’s rendition (with the Shades’ entrance beginning at roughly 3mn in. Check it out. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R-4phC-CctQ)


Back to Saturday night’s performance at the War Memorial Opera House. The corps, descending the ramp to form six rows of four dancers, didn’t have quite the perfection of the Paris Opera Ballet dancers—arabesques weren’t at a uniform height 100 percent across the board, and a millisecond’s rush on coming out of the arabesques for some—but few companies in the world can outperform the Paris Opera Ballet here. And once San Francisco Ballet’s twenty-four Shades were in place, dancing with their slow, sustained développés and arabesques in unison, they shone. An unforgettable image, that mass of dancers in white tutus, moving as one. Soul-stirring.

Maria Kochetkova dancing as Nikiya did not disappoint—she never does, come to think of it. Guest artist Denis Matvienko, soloist with the Mariinsky, lent an exotic touch to the night’s casting, with a strong performance, but it seems the SFB men are so good to begin with, you can’t help but wonder why they pulled in an outsider. Give me Davit Karapetyan any time, thank you. Or Taras Domitro, Joan Boada. The three solo Shades, Frances Chung, Mathilde Froustey and Simone Messmer all had noteworthy performances. And, oh, my, the strength required to do the ultra-slow moves that Chung did so well. (A développé a la seconde, but en pointe, and holding the high extension while still en pointe.) I loved catching my first glimpse of both Froustey and Messmer in action. Gorgeous dancers, the both of them, and great additions to the company. (Read about this here: http://www.theclassicalgirl.com/san-francisco-ballet-time/)

One regret is that the SFB chose to open the evening’s program with “Kingdom of the Shades” and not Ghosts. Commencing with the latter would have allowed audience members to appreciate the opener while savoring the anticipation of something more delicious to come. This way felt like eating dessert first, and made Ghosts seem a little like the vegetables.


Ghosts is choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, music by C.F. Kip Winger (who, interestingly, was a bassist for Alice Cooper in the 1980’s). Wheeldon is world-famous and much in demand, known for putting a contemporary twist on classical ballet steps, and vice-versa. In Ghosts, as principal Damian Smith phrased it in the program notes,  there’s “an intertwined, off balance partnership that never seems to unwind, a kind of thread that’s constantly knotted.” Great costumes, silvery, translucent and diaphanous like something out of a dream, by Mark Zappone. A Great Scary Thing abstract sculpture dangles high above downstage right. When it descends further, with a mechanical groan, the dozen(ish) dancers assembled glance up and over their right shoulders in unison, frozen in this tableau state for several seconds.

I found the dancing that followed to be beautiful, but curiously… un-engaging. There was nothing amiss, but nothing grabbed me by the heart and rocked my world. Not after Shades. I’d also been looking forward to seeing Damian Smith partnering Yuan Yuan Tan but, alas, those annoying eleventh-hour cast changes. I think this, too, tainted my appreciation. Lorena Feijoo seemed more power-house than nuanced, in an otherwise solid partnership with Gaetano Amico and Rubén Martin Cíntas. Yuan Yuan Tan was a standout with partner Vitor Luiz (although the fact that he wasn’t Damian Smith, who premiered this role with Tan in 2008, gave him an unmerited ding). Ensemble work was all solid and worthy—nods here to Dores André, Nicole Ciapponi and Shannon Rugani. Like I said, no complaints. But a plea to artistic direction: in the future, please don’t give us dessert first.


In the way I’d hoped to fall in love with Ghosts, but didn’t, I hadn’t planned to fall in love with Firebird, but did. With music by Stravinsky, choreography by Yuri Possokhov, it was definitely not vegetables. Nor was it main course. More like an eclectic side dish you’d never tried before and found you liked. The first Firebird premiered in 1910, choreographed by Michel Fokine for the Ballets Russes, and this is one of many renditions that followed. It reminds me in some ways of the famous Rite of Spring which just celebrated its centennial last year. And perhaps that’s no surprise: same composer here, Stravinsky, and same choreographer, Yuri Possokhov (for the SFB’s version). And watching Firebird in its opening scene where Kaschei, the evil despot, and his creepy looking reptilian henchmen whirl about, Kaschei (played wonderfully by Pascal Molat) clutching a giant egg, the prize of all prizes, I felt the same gleeful energy that I observed in last year’s Rite of Spring premiere.

Yuan Yuan Tan as The Firebird was delightful to behold, her fire color more saffron than red. The unitard costume, by Sandra Woodall, dazzled me, as did Tan, with long red-orange hair cascading down her back, and a matching tail. Her dancing was explosive, playful and articulated. Watching her with that swishing tail and long red hair brought to mind one of those “My Little Pony” dolls that little girls have. Tell me if you agree. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X3G2kitXwSY


Drawn from Slavic folklore, the Firebird is a mythical creature that can bring good fortune, or bad, to those who capture it. In this ballet, the prince catches, and releases the Firebird, who aids him later in freeing the princess imprisoned by the evil Kaschei. Tiit Helimets as the prince was charming and likeable – I’ve considered him a rather aloof dancer in the past, albeit a highly competent one, as befits a longtime principal. Sasha de Sola was a delight as the princess, alternately sassy and girlish. Molat’s Kaschei managed to be both comical and menacing, and the prized giant egg, itself, almost seemed to be a character, one tossed back and forth between villain and hero. In one scene, the prince has the egg and is running, with Kaschei and his crew in furious pursuit. Of course they can’t run far; they are onstage. Possokhov cleverly inserts a slow-motion action that’s hilariously effective and makes you feel the speed and intensity of a chase scene. Great, memorable stuff.

Shades, Ghosts and Birds. You have until Sunday March 2nd to see the San Francisco Ballet’s Program 3 in action. Whatever order they put it in, the trio of tastings make for a satisfying, memorable night.