A Wondrous "Nutcracker' Straight From Left Field

Mark McGwire
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By: Marilyn Tucker, S.F. Chronicle Staff Critic

There may have been some who thought the Oakland A's should look for a new line of work after getting shut out in the World Series in four straight - but classical ballet? "The Nutcracker"?

Yet there they were at the Oakland Ballet's Friday night opening at the Paramount: team manager Tony La Russa, pitcher Dave Stewart, first baseman Mark McGwire and outfielder Steve Howard, all looking smart as they joined the fight between the toy soldiers and the rats in the first act and, later, filling in as line partners in the Arabian Coffee divertissement.

The A's contribution was a vibrantly funny promotion, all the more so because director Ronn Guidi gave the guys real lifts and turns to carry out their new assignment. Except for their white sports shoes, their costumes were complementary to the rest of the production.

Still, nothing could have been more amusing than when they raised their arms in some of the classical positions. Those guys are big hunks of meat.


They made off with Tom Prachar, who'd been done to death as the Rat King, as though he were a matchstick. And Prachar, a funny dancer/actor himself, has never seemed particularly small before. The turns and lifts they did with Joy Gim in Arabian Coffee were also hilarious.

Marketing departments may have taken over the world, but this was such a good-natured promotion, full of cheer and community spirit, that even Scrooge wouldn't have been offended. In more than 20 years of close "Nutcracker" watching, I haven't seen anything to match it.

When it comes right down to it, however, Oakland Ballet hardly needs a baseball team to prove its worth. The rest of the program was an exemplary diversion, highlighted by a splendid reading of the Tchaikovsky score by the Oakland East Bay Symphony, conducted by Denis de Coteau.


Most of the dancers did double, even triple duty in a finely synchronized production. Joy Gim, for example, the sexy houri opposite Ron Thiele in the Arabian Coffee number, had spent the first act as a good Mother, again with Thiele as Father.

The classical leads were refined, the character dancing snappy and fun. Cynthia Chin was an inviting Sugar Plum Fairy, with Joral Schmalle as the Cavalier.

Other couples included Marisa Ritter and Mario Alonzo as the Snow Queen and Cavalier, Jill Taylor and Gregg Engle as the Rose and Cavalier.


Company balletmaster Howard Sayette gives Guidi's "Nutcracker" weight and balance with his fine presence in the roles of Drosselmeyer and the Candy Kingdom Major Domo.

A current company fund-raising drive has, as one of its objects, the spiffing up of "Nutcracker" sets and costumes, although Richard Battle's original designs, dating from 1972, look fresh and inviting.

Meantime, Oakland's "Nutcracker" goes on at the Paramount most days through December 27 - alas, without the A's.

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