Tourism for Locals: The Westfield Dome Offers Cultural Viewing in IMAX

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Juan De Anda/ SF Weekly
Thunder Dome: SF Ballet edition.

'Tis the season for crowded stores, pushy shoppers, and bell ringers. As much as we love the holidays, they can be overwhelming and drive us away from the festive centers of the city, like Union Square.

But don't scoff and roll your eyes if you are surrounded by this Christmas chaos. if you happen to find yourself waiting in long lines at the Westfield in downtown, then we suggest going to the fourth level of the seven-story mall and enjoy some free ballet under the dome.

The dome at the Westfield's San Francisco Centre is an iconic glass and steel vaulted ceiling, first unveiled in 1896, and sits at the center of the building that was once home to the former Emporium department store.

Designed by architect Albert Pissis, the dome and the Market Street façade of the building are signature features of the structure that still stand today. Destroyed by the 1906 earthquake and fire, the dome was rebuilt in 1908. Throughout the early 20th century, its rotunda was a hub of social activity, featuring a two-tiered bandstand and a café where concerts were held every Saturday night, according to historical plaques and features near the entrance of the building.

In 2006, the dome was fully restored and elevated 168-feet above Market and Mission streets as part of the building's revival. The 102-foot diameter, three-story structure weighs 500,000 pounds and features more than 800 crown and lunette windows and 900 lights.

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San Francisco Historical Society
Back in it's glory days.

The concave surface now functions as a massive movie screen for special light and visual spectaculars.The dome's interior surface area of 11,781 square feet makes it nearly three times the size of a standard IMAX screen (3,801 square feet) and nearly 1,000 feet larger than the largest IMAX screen available, according to tourism materials at this mall. This makes the viewing of San Francisco Ballet's new rendition of The Nutcracker much more impressive and nostalgic, especially since this classic Christmas production has a special place in our hearts and San Francisco history.

The San Francisco Ballet was the first professional ballet company in the United States (take that New York!) founded in 1933 by ballet master Adolph Bolm and American choreographer Willam Christensen. Christensen subsequently became known for bringing the complete version of the Russian ballet by Tchaikovsky (The Nutcracker) to the United States, as well as staging the first American performances of Swan Lake and Coppélia. Christensen's Nutcracker was first staged Christmas Eve of 1944 at the War Memorial Opera House at Civic Center. The staging of The Nutcracker here in the City by the Bay started the worldwide tradition of showing this production around the holidays.

But if you don't have time or the resources to attend this year's production in person, then you don't have to miss out. The San Francisco Ballet, with the Westfield San Francisco Centre, has produced a six-minute film that shows the main plot components and musical moments of the play. The Westfield's iconic dome comes to life each night with this brand-new 3D light show that showcases the beloved holiday tradition in an innovative new format that takes advantage of the dome space and acoustics. There are even moments where The Golden Gate Bridge, Palace of Fine Arts and Coit Tower appear, covered in snow as a tribute to the first staging in the Western Hemisphere of this ballet standard. Here's a trailer that hopes to entice:

Nutcracker Under the Dome runs nightly from Nov. 21 through Dec. 31, every half hour from 5 p.m. until the Centre's closing.

Happy holidays!

For events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF, Juan at @JuanPDeAnda, and like us on Facebook

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