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

By Muriel Maffre

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 SF Ballet’s second director in 1954, the Company was ready for a revamped production of 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 SF Ballet’s chief designer in the late ‘50s.

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!

In 1967, the seventy-fifth anniversary of 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!

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 Panama-Pacific International Exhibition-inspired Nutcracker that Tomasson could call his own.

Gloria Cancilla and Richard Carter in Lew Christensen's Nutcracker. Photographer unknown.
Explore: Combing the Archives with Muriel Maffre: Nutcracker History – Part 1

Did you know that the American tradition of the Nutcracker originated in San Francisco? It’s a story that the Museum of Performance + Design is proud to preserve and share through a series of artist papers, photo collections, design renderings, and models.

Read More
Explore: A Day in the Life of the Corps de Ballet

Esteban Hernandez and Miranda Silveira are two of SF Ballet’s dedicated corps de ballet members who perform many of the roles in SF Ballet's Nutcracker. We followed them around the War Memorial Opera House to get a feel for what a day in their life is like.

Read More