+

Lew Christensen’s 1967 Nutcracker

Lew Christensen’s 1967 Nutcracker

Elegance, Opulence, and a Winter Wonderland

When he staged a new Nutcracker in 1967, Lew Christensen retained much of his choreography from the 1954 production. Robert O’Hearn designed the sets and costumes, which were more realistic, elegant, and opulent than the two previous productions. Many of the 250 silk, satin, and velvet costumes had jewels, and the tree sparkled with twinkling lights as it grew.

SF Ballet in Lew Christensen's Nutcracker (Photo courtesy SFMPD.)
SF Ballet in Lew Christensen’s Nutcracker (Photo courtesy SFMPD.)

The design that inspired the most lavish praise was the stunning snow scene, which O’Hearn described as “in the style of a nineteenth century engraving.” As snow began to fall, two transparent scrims, painted with snow-covered trees, moved across the stage in opposite directions. Clara and the Nutcracker entered and wandered behind the scrims, which moved off to reveal a winter wonderland of forest.

The Snow Kingdom from Lew Christensen's Nutcracker (© Henri McDowell. Photo courtesy of SFMPD.)
The Snow Kingdom from Lew Christensen’s Nutcracker (© Henri McDowell. Photo courtesy of SFMPD.)

This production opened with a new prologue. The battle between the mice and toy soldiers was more impressively staged, and some of the divertissement were again revamped.

SF Ballet in Lew Christensen's Nutcracker (© Henri McDowell. Photo courtesy of SFMPD.)
SF Ballet in Lew Christensen’s Nutcracker (© Henri McDowell. Photo courtesy of SFMPD.)

The Spanish Dance was now performed by three couples. Chinese Tea became a romp between a man and a dancing paper dragon.

San Francisco Ballet students as the Chinese Dragon in Lew Christensen’s “Nutcracker”, 1980. (© James Armstrong. Courtesy of the Museum of Performance + Design, San Francisco)

Four Dresden dolls replaced a shepherdess and her two lambs in the Mirliton dance.

Damara Bennett as a Mirliton in Lew Christensen's "Nutcracker" (© Henri McDowell. Courtesy of the Museum of Performance + Design)
Damara Bennett as a Mirliton in Lew Christensen’s “Nutcracker” (© Henri McDowell. Courtesy of the Museum of Performance + Design)

More dancers were added to the Waltz of the Flowers. And for the first time, Clara and the Prince flew out of the Candy Kingdom.

Betsy Erickson as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Gary Wahl as her Cavalier in a performance of Lew Christensen's Nutcracker
Betsy Erickson as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Gary Wahl as her Cavalier in a performance of Lew Christensen’s Nutcracker

Header image: Sketch of Robert O’Hearn’s scenic design of under the Christmas tree in Act I of Lew Christensen’s “Nutcracker”, circa 1967. (© Courtesy of the Museum of Performance + Design)