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The Nutcracker Debuts

Hundreds of little girls donning party dresses, tutus and patent leather shoes descended upon the War Memorial Opera House Thursday night to see young Clara make her way through a magical world of mice and soliders, Arabians and Russians, Spaniards and Chinese, in the San Francisco Ballet's opening night of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker.

Even five years after Artistc Director Helgi Tomasson's makeover of the production, the set and costume design are still breakthaking. The Chronicle's Rachel Howard proclaimed the production "one of the best "Nutcrackers" in the country and, by my estimation, the most visually elegant."

Jessica Cohen reprises the role of Clara, while principals Tina LeBlanc and Joan Boada perform the Grand Pas de Deux. Tiit Helimets and Yuan Yuan Tan are a glittering display of the Snow King and Queen, and Vanessa Zahorian assumes the spotlight as the Sugar Plum Fairy. The elaborate costumes and stunning set decoration nearly distract from all the world-class dancing that takes place throughout the evening, but even the ballet novice will leave the Opera House mesmerized and enchanted.

Shows run daily at 2pm and 7pm, save Christmas Day, through Dec. 28. Tickets for select events are available at a discounted price: 50 percent off Dress Circle and Premium Orchestra matinee tickets from Dec. 16-18, and 30 percent off the same seats for Dec. 16-18 evening performances.

At select performances on Dec. 16, 17 and 18, the first 500 children to arrive will receive the chance to get their pictures taken with members of the cast.

Visit of www.sfballet.org for more information.