San Francisco


Ballet 100 Feet High

This holiday season, join us as we take our iconic Nutcracker to new heights… literally! Beginning this week, visitors to Westfield San Francisco Centre’s historic Dome will see it transformed each evening into a state-of-the-art surround theater, with a free, six-minute animated 3D light spectacular—inspired by SF Ballet’s production of Nutcracker.

Nutcracker Under The Dome projection and design by Obscura Digital (Image courtesy of Obscura Digital)

San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker Under the Dome brings the most-beloved moments from Nutcracker to life on the Dome’s architecture, projecting our dancers’ forms onto this unique space to create a 360o immersive experience for the audience standing under it. This truly is ballet on the big screen—the Dome’s interior surface area is 11,781 square feet, making it nearly three times the size of a standard IMAX screen. So, how was it done?

Dancing on the Dome

Nutcracker Under the Dome was created by San Francisco-based Obscura Digital, a creative technology studio that specializes in immersive and interactive experiences. Their amazing work has been seen all over the world, including the Sydney Opera House, the Guggenheim Museum, SXSW, NASA, Facebook, and Google. They also created the Westfield San Francisco Centre’s previous two Dome Shows, Illuminique and Corazon.

SF Ballet principal dancers Maria Kochetkova and Davit Karapetyan filming Nutcracker Under the Dome (Image courtesy of Obscura Digital)
SF Ballet School Student Juliet Doherty filming Nutcracker Under the Dome

It took three days of filming with 16 SF Ballet dancers (including 10 children) and 12 crew members to capture 16 hours of dance footage for the six-minute show. Filmed last spring by Obscura Digital on a 2,500 square feet soundstage at San Francisco’s Beyond Pix Studio (the largest facility of its kind in our city,) the shoot was directed by the man who knows Nutcracker best: SF Ballet Artistic Director & Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson, who choreographed this production.

After the filming, the team at Obscura Digital clocked in over 1,000 hours of intricate post-production and animation to transform the raw footage—which was captured in slow motion at 90 frames per second—into San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker Under the Dome. Tasked with capturing the essence of our two-hour stage production, the show traces Clara’s journey from her San Francisco Victorian-era home to the Nutcracker’s magical kingdom, all accompanied by Tchaikovsky’s instantly-recognizable music, as performed by our own SF Ballet Orchestra.

Maria Kochetkova filming Nutcracker Under the Dome (Image courtesy of Obscura Digital)

A Historic Stage, 100 Feet High

The projection-mapping technology used to create Nutcracker Under the Dome may be cutting-edge, but given its 117 years of history, the Dome’s location in the Westfield San Francisco Centre is actually an even older “stage” than the 1932 War Memorial Opera House on which we perform Nutcracker!

Shoppers eat and drink under the Dome c.1910 (Photo courtesy of Westfield/La Boulange)

The huge retail destination where the Westfield San Francisco Centre is now located began life in 1896 as the beaux arts-style “Emporium,” with the 102 ft-wide Dome as its skylight and social hub—complete with a two-tiered bandstand, café, and weekly concerts. Yet like much of the city, the Emporium and its Dome was devastated by the massive San Francisco earthquake of 1906, and took two years to rebuild.

The collapsed Dome after the 1906 firestorm (Photo courtesy of Westfield)
Construction workers take a break from rebuilding the Dome, 1906-1908 (Photo courtesy of Westfield)

When the Emporium became today’s Westfield San Francisco Centre in 2006, the Dome—which weighs half a million pounds—was painstakingly restored and elevated by 58 feet. It now sits almost 170 feet above street level, allowing even more natural light to stream into the atrium through its 800 ornate glass panels. With over 20 million visitors passing under it each year, the Dome represents a truly significant piece of our city’s history.

The Dome in Westfield San Francisco Center during the day (Photo courtesy of Westfield)

Who You’ll See Up There

Yuan Yuan Tan (Snow Queen)

This year marks Yuan Yuan Tan’s 18th year dancing with SF Ballet, and her eighteenth Nutcracker! The Shanghai-born principal dancer, who joined us back in 1995 as a soloist, can be seen performing the role of the Snow Queen as a blizzard of snowflakes fall around her on the Dome.

Maria Kochetkova (Grand Pas de Deux Ballerina)

Moscow-born Maria Kochetkova has been a principal dancer with our company for seven years, but this will be her first time “performing” almost 100 feet above her audience! The Grand Pas de Deux (a duet for two dancers) is one of ballet’s most famous, and represents the thrilling climax of Nutcracker.

Davit Karapetyan (Nutcracker Prince)

Principal Dancer Davit Karapetyan portrays the Nutcracker doll who comes to life as a prince and guides Clara on her magical journey, a role that calls for him to wear a large costume head for the first act of Nutcracker. Armenian-born Davit has danced with SF Ballet since 2005.

Alexander Reneff-Olson (Rat King)

Even though you won’t see his face, that’s corps de ballet dancer Alexander Reneff-Olson in the villainous Rat King’s costume in the Dome Show. Bay Area native Alex rose up from the SF Ballet School via an apprenticeship with the Company.

Elizabeth Powell (Mirliton)

Look closer at the three colorful “Mirlitons” dancing with ribbons and you’ll see it’s actually only one dancer, Corps de Ballet member Elizabeth Powell, who has been “cloned” to create a picture-perfect trio. You might recognize Boston-born Elizabeth from the 2008 PBS Great Performances broadcast of Nutcracker, in which she starred as Clara while still a student at the SF Ballet School.

Juliet Doherty (Clara)

15 year-old SF Ballet School student Juliet Doherty first played Clara in SF Ballet’s Nutcracker last year, and now she’s reprising her role on the Dome. Juliet, who calls Clara “the dream role for young ballerinas” says filming in front of a green screen was a big shift from dancing onstage surrounded by the Nutcracker set.

Come See Nutcracker Under The Dome!

(Photo courtesy San Francisco Ballet School)

Nightly: Thursday November 21-Tuesday, December 31

Free light spectaculars nightly every half hour from 5pm until mall closing at 9pm

Free Launch Event: Thursday, November 21, from 3.30pm

Gather your friends and family to celebrate the debut of Nutcracker Under The Dome with the artists of SF Ballet!

Starting at 3.30pm, we’ll be giving away complimentary children’s tutus to the first 150 children who arrive. This will be a very popular event, so arrive early, as lines form quickly and tutus are given out on a first-come, first-served basis, only while supplies last. Young ballet fans can also participate in a FREE “Nutcracker Movement Class,” taught experts from our Center for Dance Education. You’ll also experience a live performance by the San Francisco Ballet School Trainees in full costume under the Dome. Then, SF Ballet Principal Dancers Maria Kochetkova and Davit Karapetyan—who are featured in Nutcracker Under The Dome—will be on hand to officially launch this unforgettable light spectacular!

For more on what you can see visiting the Dome, including the SF Ballet Pop-Up Shop and the chance to meet our dancers, visit our Nutcracker page.

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