New choreography by: Amy Seiwert, Darren Anderson and Jane Rehm
November 23-24, 2012: Bankhead Theater, Livermore, California
November 28-December 2, 2012: Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, Mountain View, California
December 7-8, 2012: Sunset Center, Carmel, California
December 14-23, 2012: Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco
Tickets: $25-$65 for San Francisco; $49-$65 for Mountain View, Walnut Creek, and Carmel; $43-$63 for Livermore. Call 415-912-1899 or go to www.smuinballet.org.
As the curtain rises on Smuin Ballet's "The Christmas Ballet, 2012 Edition," images from paintings of angels and trumpeters are projected on a translucent screen, accompanied by traditional religious music. Slowly the lights come up behind the screen, revealing a tableau of dancers dressed in dazzling white. Then the screen is lifted and the dance begins.
Smuin Ballet has been putting on a Christmas concert since the 1990s, each year introducing new numbers and bringing back old favorites. This year's show consists of 30 or so three-minute pieces, bite-size chunks that make it particularly accessible for children, hesitant spouses and other people new to watching dance.
The first half of the show, "Classical Christmas," is a feast for ballet lovers, with beautiful lines and fastidious footwork. The Smuin style blends classical ballet with contemporary movement and themes, using creative phrasing and musicality.
The third piece, in particular, "Noel Nouvelet," by choreographer-in-residence Amy Seiwert , is full of surprises as traditional steps and lifts are performed with innovative twists and unexpected dismounts. The staging and costumes are elegant but simple, allowing for cohesiveness and a seamless flow between the dances.
The second half of the program, "Cool Christmas," opens again with images projected on a screen, this time children's drawings of Christmas scenes, while Santa-hat bunting bedecks the stage. The pieces in the second half are generally more light-hearted and humorous, and choreographed in a variety of styles, from old-school jazz and tap to modern Broadway and contemporary ballet.
Familiar tunes accompany the pieces, including the classic Eartha Kitt rendition of "Santa Baby," starring five men in trench coats attending one diva and a 42-foot feather boa.
Smuin has built up a loyal following in the Bay Area over the years, as the packed auditorium on a rainy Wednesday night confirmed.
One particularly devoted audience member, from the moment the curtain rose, enthusiastically and solitarily applauded not only the crowd-pleasing tricks, but every successfully-landed jeté and double pirouette, undaunted by occasional titters from her neighbors.
But by the end of the show we were all joining in, happily laughing out loud, won over by holiday spirit and the dancers' antics.
Many of the pieces have been performed in the annual holiday show many times and have become audience favorites. At one point in the program, as fake snow falls on the stage and part of the audience, seasoned Smuin watchers unfurled umbrellas over their heads right on cue.
All of the dancers are equally lovely technicians and performers, and take turns dancing the soloist roles in most of the pieces. As a group they are physically strong and athletic, and work well together despite differences in height and body type. Past and present dancers are encouraged to choreograph for the company.
Smuin Ballet has its Holiday Challenge fundraising effort under way. Gifts will be matched up to $175,000 by a group of supporters. Visit smuinballet.org/giving to donate.