Combing the Archives with Muriel Maffre: Nutcracker History – Part 2

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 Muriel Maffre was a principal dancer with San Francisco Ballet from 1990-2007. After retiring, she received a B.A. in Performing Arts from St. Mary’s College of Moraga and an M.A. in Museum Studies from John F. Kennedy University. She is currently the executive director at the Museum of Performance + Design in San Francisco. For this blog series, Muriel combed the archives and uncovered some fascinating objects related to the origins of SF Ballet’s Nutcracker.

By the time Lew Christensen succeeded his brother Willam as San Francisco Ballet’s second director in 1954, the company was ready for a revamped production of The Nutcracker. It opened on December 18 of that year with all new choreography by Lew, as well as new sets and costumes by award-winning children’s book illustrator Leonard Weisgard (1916–2000), who served as San Francisco Ballet’s chief designer in the late 50s.

The Prince and The Mouse King (1954) [name], photographer The Nutcracker, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Marius Petipa, Lev Ivanov (1892) San Francisco Ballet Collection of the Museum of Performance + Design

The Prince and The Mouse King (1954)
unknown photographer
The Nutcracker, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Marius Petipa, Lev Ivanov (1892)
San Francisco Ballet
Collection of the Museum of Performance + Design

Jocelyn Volmar as Snow Queen and Roderick Drew as Snow King (1958) Unknown photographer The Nutcracker, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Marius Petipa, Lev Ivanov (1892) San Francisco Ballet Collection of the Museum of Performance + Design

Jocelyn Volmar as Snow Queen and Roderick Drew as Snow King (1958)
Unknown photographer
The Nutcracker, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Marius Petipa, Lev Ivanov (1892)
San Francisco Ballet
Collection of the Museum of Performance + Design

 

This production featured many creative twists: In Chocolate, a matador and a señorita fought a licorice bull; the Dance of the Reed Pipes featured a shepherdess and her two lambs; and Trepak became a Ribbon Candy Dance and a showstopper for a young Michael Smuin, who several years later would become SF Ballet’s co-director!

The Matador design plate for The Nutcracker (1954) Leonard Weisgard (1916-2000) The Nutcracker, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Marius Petipa, Lev Ivanov (1892) San Francisco Ballet Collection of the Museum of Performance + Design

The Matador design plate for The Nutcracker (1954)
Leonard Weisgard (1916-2000)
The Nutcracker, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Marius Petipa, Lev Ivanov (1892)
San Francisco Ballet
Collection of the Museum of Performance + Design

 

The Nutcracker San Francisco Ballet 1954 Gloria Cancilla as the Senorita Richard Carter as the Matador Roderick Drew as the Bull

Gloria Cancilla as the Senorita, Richard Carter as the Matador, Roderick Drew as the Bull (1954) Unknown photographer The Nutcracker, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Marius Petipa, Lev Ivanov (1892) San Francisco Ballet Collection of the Museum of Performance + Design

 

Design plate for the Ribbon Candy Dance (1954) Leonard Weisgard (1916-2000) The Nutcracker, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Marius Petipa, Lev Ivanov (1892) San Francisco Ballet Collection of the Museum of Performance + Design

Design plate for the Ribbon Candy Dance (1954)
Leonard Weisgard (1916-2000)
The Nutcracker, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Marius Petipa, Lev Ivanov (1892)
San Francisco Ballet
Collection of the Museum of Performance + Design

 

Michael Smuin in the Ribbon Candy Dance (1959) Emilie Romaine photographer The Nutcracker, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Marius Petipa, Lev Ivanov (1892) San Francisco Ballet Collection of the Museum of Performance + Design

Michael Smuin in the Ribbon Candy Dance (1959)
Emilie Romaine photographer
The Nutcracker, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Marius Petipa, Lev Ivanov (1892)
San Francisco Ballet
Collection of the Museum of Performance + Design

In 1967, the seventy-fifth anniversary of The Nutcracker inspired SF Ballet to celebrate in style with a brand new production–this time designed by stage and costume designer Robert O’Hearn, an artist critically acclaimed for his works of “imagination and beauty.” With a $130,000 budget, this production was lavish; 7,000 pounds of costumes, props and scenery, all crafted by hand!

Robert O’Hearn (1967) Jack Mitchell photographer Collection of the Museum of Performance + Design

Robert O’Hearn (1967)
Jack Mitchell photographer
Collection of the Museum of Performance + Design

 

Model for The Nutcracker, Act 1, scene 2 (1967) Robert O’Hearn (1921-) The Nutcracker, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Marius Petipa, Lev Ivanov (1892) San Francisco Ballet Collection of the Museum of Performance + Design

Model for The Nutcracker, Act 1, scene 2 (1967)
Robert O’Hearn (1921-)
The Nutcracker, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Marius Petipa, Lev Ivanov (1892)
San Francisco Ballet
Collection of the Museum of Performance + Design

 

Betsy Erickson as Snow Queen and Vane Vest as Snow King (c. 1972) Henri McDowell photographer The Nutcracker, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Marius Petipa, Lev Ivanov (1892) San Francisco Ballet Collection of the Museum of Performance + Design

Betsy Erickson as Snow Queen and Vane Vest as Snow King (c. 1972)
Henri McDowell photographer
The Nutcracker, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Marius Petipa, Lev Ivanov (1892)
San Francisco Ballet
Collection of the Museum of Performance + Design

Since then, SF Ballet has lived through two productions, one even more spectacular than the other and both directed by the Company’s fourth and current Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson. The 1986 production featured designs by Jose Verona and retained most of Lew’s choreography with additional choreography by Willam and Helgi. At the turn of the millennium, the Company was again ready for a Nutcracker make-over! This time, Helgi worked closely with Tony Award-winning designers Michael Yeargan and Martin Pakledinaz and developed a 1915 Pan-Panama Pacific Exhibition-inspired Nutcracker that Tomasson could call his own.

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