|The Smuin Ballet Company in The Christmas Ballet, 2010 Edition. Photo by David Allen.
The late choreographer Michael Smuin would be proud! His work still lives and thrives in the capable hands of SF Balletâs Amy Seiwert (Choreographer in Residence) and Amy London (Ballet Master) as demonstrated in The Christmas Ballet, now playing at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Catch it if you can! This popular holiday celebration combines beautifully executed classic ballet performances with charming, humorous and sexy dance pieces set to seasonal music, ranging from J.S. Bach to Elvis with a dip into Klezmer along the way.
Thereâs something extra special this year about Smuinâs dancers that seems to make their leaps a little higher, their pirouettes more graceful and their extensions even longer. Is it the new choreography (Siewertâs âNoel Nouvelet,â âCarol of the Bellsâ and more) to their annual returning fare? Whatever the cause, the sheer joy of dance is palpable.
Opening the always-changing feast of holiday fun is the entire company in the lovely full baroque âMagnificatâ to the music of J.S. Bach. Jessica Touchet followed in the âZither Carol,â and though initially tentative, she warmed up to solidly perform her solo âLa Calandriaâ in the second half. Equally fine is Erin Yarbrough-Stewart in âDomineâ (from Mass in C Minor) in the first. Even the sound of the shoes moving in unison across the floor is mesmerizing in âVeni, Veni Emmanuelâ (a favorite of mine), performed by the Women of the Company. John Speed Orr serves up a flawless âRiu Riu Chiu,â ending with a final slap to his taut thigh that echoes through the hall. The fluidity of Matthew Linzerâs âLa Virgen Lava Panalesâ is both breathtaking and heartbreaking. Off pointe, the âGloucestershire Wassailâ has a folksy flavor. Jean Michelle Sayeg grabs the soul as the Men of the Company, capped in yarmulkes, in turn grab her in the haunting âLicht benshânâ (âCandle Blessingâ), the one venture from Christmas tunes into the realm of klezmer where steamy smoke chillingly suggests burning bodies from the smokestacks of WWII camp ovens.
Lighter fare pervades the second half with a very sexy âDrummer Boyâ (John Speed Orr); and even more pelvic action by Matthew Linzer (think Elvis) in âBlue Christmasâ adored by the clinging Women of the Company; plus three clogging âDroopy Little Christmas Treesâ (Shannon Hurlburt, Ben Behrends, and Shane Tice) along with Robin Cornwellâs hot little number âSanta Babyâ with the Men of the Company. âI Pray on Christmasâ is delightfully presented by Touchet and Hurlburt with the Company. Hurlburtâs solo footwork brings down the house in the âBells of Dublin,â and Susan Roemer revives the lonesome â50s in âPlease Come Home for Christmas.â Humor abounds in âChristmas Islandâ (Robin Cornwell, Jane Rehm, Susan Roemer with Terez Dean and Ryan Camou) and the Sugar Plum Fairy gets challenged in âSugar Rum Cherry.â Of course it always snows at the end of The Christmas Ballet, so you might want to bring a parasol.
The exquisite costumes (Sandra Woodall) range from a palette of muted winter colors over shimmering whites to bright holiday hues, all adding even more pizzazz to the show. And Michael Oeschâs lighting design is extraordinary as it changes the emotional mood from frivolous to soulful in the blink of an eye.
For those on your holiday gift-giving list, tickets to Smuinâs sleek and sassy The Christmas Ballet is a perfect gift for audiences of all ages. Or just treat yourself! Itâs well worth it!
The Christmas Ballet until Dec. 24 at Yerba Buena Centerâs Novellus Theater, 701 Howard Street, San Francisco. Tickets ($20 to $62) call (415) 978-2787 or (415) 556-5000 or at smuinballet.org.