America’s First Snow Queen
Celebrating Jocelyn Vollmar
Today, the beauty of the Snow Queen, Snow King, and snowflakes dancing amid swirls of falling flurries is a beloved (and much anticipated) moment in Nutcracker. In 1944, when San Francisco Ballet premiered the complete Nutcracker, there was just dancing—Jocelyn Vollmar as the Snow Queen, dancing with Joaquin Felsch and 16 corps de ballet members carrying wands. Even so, the audience was in awe. Although she went on to a long and illustrious career in dance, Jocelyn Vollmar is fondly remembered for her role as America’s first Snow Queen.
Jocelyn Vollmar was born in San Francisco on November 25, 1925. She studied at San Francisco Ballet School with Willam Christensen and performed as a student in America’s first full-length production of Swan Lake as well as the first 20th-century American Coppélia. She joined SF Ballet at the age of 17.
In 1944, Willam Christensen created America’s first full-length Nutcracker for San Francisco Ballet. He told Vollmar on her 19th birthday that she would be cast as the Snow Queen. Christensen’s new Nutcracker featured costumes by dancer Russell Hartley and sets by artist Antonio Sotomayor. Due to wartime restrictions, Vollmar and fellow dancer Gisella Caccialanza Christensen—cast as the Sugar Plum Fairy—had to source the material for their tutus and tights themselves. The production was a success, paving the way for the many productions scattered across the U.S. each December.
Vollmar’s career flourished as well. After performing with the New York City Ballet, Ballet Theatre (now American Ballet Theatre), Grand Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas in Europe, and The Australian Ballet, Vollmar returned to SF Ballet in 1956. She went on to train generations of dancers—including a few that would grow up to be Snow Queens themselves—as a faculty member at SF Ballet School from 1985 to 2005. Vollmar, who remained a beloved member of the San Francisco Ballet family throughout her life, passed away in 2018 at the age of 92.
Header image: Jocelyn Vollmar and WanTing Zhao in 2015 // © Chris Hardy