Set Design

SF Ballet in Balanchine's Coppélia. (© Chris Hardy)

Set design may not be the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of a fantastic ballet performance, but it is an extremely important part of any stage production. Sets can enhance any performance by creating a magical world for the dancers, or they can detract from a ballet if they don't fit its narrative. Set designers for the ballet have to create a fictional world on stage with various props, screens, and decorations. A team of carpenters, painters, and artists construct the sets out of wood, fabric, plastic, and any other materials that will make their set come alive. It takes a lot of hard work and time to paint all the set decorations and to make sure everything looks right when viewed from the audience.

In the Nutcracker production, the sets creates multiple atmospheres throughout the show. In the beginning, a backdrop of Victorian houses portrays San Francisco. When the scene changes to the interior of a house decorated for a Christmas party, a large, beautifully lit Christmas tree complete with presents, a staircase and numerous other props create an elegant living room. One of the most memorable scenes in the ballet is the "Snow Scene," in which snowflakes dance through falling snow against a backdrop of wintery pine trees. The set designer and stage crew are responsible for making the snow appear, but they are also responsible for the disappearance of the snow during intermission. It is their job to design the stage so that each scene is portrayed with the appropriate atmosphere. The magical effect of new and exotic worlds continues into the second act of the Nutcracker with colorful set pieces and backdrop that reflect foreign lands and cultures.

The next time you see a ballet performance (or any performance), take a moment to observe the set. Think of how the set works together with the story and how it contributes to the overall performance. Then, imagine what the experience would be like without the sets; you’ll begin to see their importance!

Coppélia scenic and costume design by Roberta Guidi di Bagno.