The Nutcracker is one of my absolute favorite holiday traditions. It’s pretty common to find a different version in every city and town around the world. From professional settings to classroom ones, the story doesn’t change much. It’s a story everyone seems to know and will entertain people of all ages.
My favorite version is the balletic one. The closest professional ballet company to me is the San Francisco Ballet. I attended a performance earlier this week and decided to share some thoughts about it in case you decide it’s something you may be interested in seeing.
The San Francisco Ballet holds their performances in one of the most beautiful venues in the Bay Area, the War Memorial Opera House. Built in 1932, this building holds a lot of history to it. The Opera House was where the United Nations first met in 1945 in order to replace the defunct League of Nations.
Today the building sits behind San Francisco City Hall and is adjacent to the San Francisco Davies Symphony Hall. It is located in the heart of the Civic Center neighborhood off the busy Van Ness avenue. Unfortunately this is also one of the sketchier areas of the city. If you are traveling alone at night, be careful. There are a lot of homeless people and drug users around.
I’ve been to the Opera House many times by myself during the day and it’s fine. Just use your best judgement and common sense. I usually take public transit to the venue. You can take the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) to the Civic Center station and walk about 5 minutes to it. This is the first year SF Ballet has been hosting a free shuttle from the Opera House. I would recommend using it if you are alone or don’t know the area.
You can also take MUNI which is SF’s bus or light rail operator. Use this link to find out more information about planning your visit. Thinking about driving? Don’t. There is very little parking available in this area of San Francisco and traffic is crazy. If you decide to drive, do not leave anything valuable in your car. Park in a garage if possible! My family has experienced several break ins on our car.
Tickets and Show Info
Well, tickets should be purchased in advance. You usually have the option to print it out from home or to pick it up at Will Call. There is not really a place to print your tickets if you forgot to do so at home. Don’t take a chance. Pick them up at the Box Office if you think you’ll forget. If you did not have the ability to print your ticket in advance, visit the Box Office. Many times you will get lucky and are able to bu a ticket on the spot. The choice of seating my be more limited.
There are a couple different areas to choose from. I like the Orchestra section myself, but those tickets can be pricey. You can choose to sit in the Dress Circle, Balcony and Boxes. The Balcony has the most affordable options with the Dress Circle and Boxes being more expensive. The tickets will range from $29 to $100 plus dollars. You get what you pay for.
If you are with a family and have kids that won’t sit still and need to get up and more around, choose the balcony. If you are an adult going to see a certain dancer or want a more premium experience, choose the Orchestra. I sat further back and paid about $75 plus handling for my ticket. There isn’t really a bad spot to sit in the theater. I’ve sat pretty much everywhere. My advice is to bring opera glasses or binoculars if you choose the upper balcony.
Keep in mind when you get here the show is about 2 hours long with a 20 minute intermission. If you are a person who needs time to snack and use the restroom, do it before the show. The show starts right on time. The restroom lines during the intermission can get long. They are located in the basement level of the Opera House.
Snacks and adult beverages are available to you, but will cost you. The wines will range from $8-20 and snacks begin at $4. I bought a small bag of gummy bears for $4 for my snack. There is no eating inside of the theater. Keep in mind your use of time. A lot of families waited to buy snacks and use the bathroom and were unhappy to be told they wouldn’t be allowed to eat inside. It is clearly marked when you enter.
One of my pet peeves is a sticky seat and garbage around. I really appreciate that the no eating inside the theater is a rule the Opera House enforces and sticks to. Photos and videography are allowed before and after the show, but not during. It’s another think I’m glad about. I hate people constantly on their phones during a show. It’s super distracting with the screen lighting.
Lastly, I want to touch upon the shopping. There is a little pop-up-shop in the lobby level, but the better shop is on the second level. They have clothing, ornaments and nutcrackers of course. If you are looking for a souvenir, a small ornament will cost you about $15. Programs are about $10 and in my opinion the best thing you can buy. The photos are fantastic and will provide the best memories of all.
Onto the ballet itself….San Francisco Ballet’s version of the Nutcracker is unique. The ballet actually is set in San Francisco during in 1915s and offers a look into the Victorian era of the city. The first act features the perfect mixture of child and professional dancers. All the children are of course student from the SF Ballet School and have excellent miming and acting skills.
The music comes from a live orchestra and is worth the cost of the ticket alone. Fewer and fewer professional companies utilize a live orchestra and this really makes or breaks the performance. The conductor adds in such an important element to control the pace of the show and match the music to the dancing.
The second act is my favorite where the Sugar Plum Fairy welcomes young Clara to the land of the sweets. You will hear all the traditional music, but what sets the SF Ballet apart is their use of their dancers. Members of all ranks from the Corps de Ballet to the Soloists and of course Principle Dancers are featured. They all are given opportunities to shine. You will see a larger than normal amount of “big name” dancers each performance.
When I saw American Ballet Theatre’s (ABT’s) version of the Nutcracker two years ago, I was really disappointed to see that the only featured dancers were the Principles at the end of the performance for the Grand Pas de Deux. The children were in pretty much every act, which is great, but for a $80 ticket, I expected more professionals.
Matinee or Evening Performance?
There isn’t much of a difference between the two other than the time and slight difference of the tickets. I find now adays that the matinee prices are about the same as the evening performance. I like going to an early show so I can do things after wards, but you are seeing the same show and will see excellent dancing. I was lucky enough to see the opening night cast for my matinee! In the end, it’s your decision. What works best for your schedule?
Nutcracker is one of my guilty pleasures during the holiday time. I would highly recommend at least going to the ballet once. I forgot to mention that while there isn’t officially a dress code, dress nice. Most people will dress up with cocktail dresses and suits. I didn’t see one person in jeans. I can’t wait for their actual season to begin in January. Until next time, happy travels.