|Smuin Ballet tappers in Michael SmuinĂÂ˘Ă˘âÂŹĂ˘âÂ˘s The Christmas Ballet.
âHandsome young men spinning and leaping up a storm.â Thatâs what The New York Times had to say about Smuin Balletâs productions, and Michael Smuinâs new edition of The Christmas Ballet does not disappoint. The cast of sixteen includes pretty young women, too, all celebrating the season in a series of twenty-eight numbers both classical and modern. The simple, beautifully lit set and the excellent sound system at the YCBA Theater provide a perfect venue for these talented, well-choreographed dancers to continue a San Francisco tradition.
Bachâs âMagnificatâ opens the show with four couples in an understated sequence of moves. Their duets and tightly synchronized lifts have a smooth flow of physical phrasing that is present throughout performance. The whole company joins the couples with bodies in fluid motion. The dance area on the stage is framed for Act I by white drapes gathered by tasseled ropes, creating a colonnade left and right. The lighting changes make them appear to change from ivory to chocolate, variously. This creates a pleasing mood very appropriate for each dance.
The show moves on through traditional carols, but not elevator music. The dancersâ movements are delicate for these compositions, displaying a light touch to the forcefulness of their steps and a comfortable, modest expansiveness of their carriage. For the fifth number âRiu Riu Chiu,â a traditional Spanish tune, Ikolo Griffin pirouettes and leaps under a red wash of light. Music by Chanticleer accompanies three couples in âEs ist ein Ros Entsprungen.â Two of the couples dance in counterpoint to the lead couple, then they all return to ensemble dancing. More traditional carols, one by Placido Domingo, and works by Handel and Palestra, along with another Bach piece, provide the music for everything from belly dancing to an Irish jig.
Act II opens with the curtain legs replaced by red columns decorated with big white puff-balls. âChristmas by the Bayâ plays with projections on a down-stage scrim of familiar scenes from around The City to accompany the dancing. âPretty paperâ by Willie nelson provides inspiration for Aaron Thayer to dance in ways that suggest a reindeer. For âSanta Babyâ, sung by Eartha Kitt, Nicole Trerise takes over the role formerly owned by Celia Fushille-Burke. She does very well in a new routine choreographed by Smuin, and the forty-foot-long boa is still there.
Some of the Act II numbers are conceived with great humor. The costumes for âDroopy Little Christmas Treeâ are clever, but undoubtedly hard to dance in. The hula dancing and shark with a Santa hat in âChristmas Islandâ are a treat. For âBaby Itâs Cold Outsideâ sung by Ray Charles, a duet dances in a quick-slow pattern reminiscent of a tango, or some other hot Latin step.
For Crosby and Berlinâs âWhite Christmas,â the obligatory fake snow falls on the stage. Then it falls on the audience. After the opening-night finale, Smuin came on stage to thank everyone, then he and the others started throwing handfuls of snow, lots of snow, very like that scene in âHard Nut.â
Michael Smuinâs choreography is creative and aesthetically pleasing in a conscientiously consistent presentation. The pacing of the numbers is occasionally attenuated by the complexity of the set changes, simple though their results are. The effects of sculptured marble, starlight, and even an ocean scene complete with surfer boy are worth the wait. The dancersâ costumes by Sandra Woodall are uncomplicated and flattering. The white tights on the men, along with the lighting angles emphasize muscular definition, and the white leotards of the ladies show off their concave bellies. This troupe of dancers is well-trained, expressive and agile. When they smile, they eagerly draw us in to their movements, but too often they forget to look happy, and the effort of concentration on their steps shows in their faces.
This show is grandly beautiful and fun to watch. Smuin has carefully created a little something for everyone for the holidays. The dancers, are charming, attractive and professionally competent. Aided by Smuinâs imagination they enact a richly textured paean to the spirit of the winter celebrations.
Michaeal Smuinâs The Christmas Ballet, 2006 Edition continues at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater, 700 Howard St., SF through Dec. 28. Tickets ($45 to $55) are available by phone at (415) 978-2787 or online at www.smuinballet.org