Produced by: Smuin Ballet
November 29-30, 2013: Bankhead Theater, 2400 First Street, Livermore. $40-$60. Call 925- 373-6800 or visit www.smuinballet.org
December 6-7, 2013: Sunset Center, San Carlos Street (between 8th and 10th), Carmel. $50-$65. Call 831-620-2048 or www.smuinballet.org
December 11-15, 2013: Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View. $49-$65. Call 650-903-6000 or visit www.smuinballet.org
December 18-28, 2013: Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Lam Research Theater, 700 Howard Street (at Third), San Francisco. $24-$64. Call 415-912-1899 or visit www.smuinballet.org
Smuin Ballet continues its celebration of its twentieth year as a company with a show that has become a Bay Area holiday tradition The Christmas Ballet. Dubbed "XXmas," the show is once again a selection of old favorites and new delights.
The program is divided into two sections. The first, Classical Christmas, features music from Bach, Mozart, Prokofiev and other classical composers and artists. Although it comprises over a dozen discrete 3- or 4-minute pieces by several different choreographers, the classical style and the common theme in costuming and set help each piece blend smoothly into the next.
Standouts in Classical Christmas included some old favorites—the uplifting opening piece, "Magnificat;" "Veni, Veni Emmanuel," a stately dance for seven women that builds from simple walking into beautiful and intricate patterns; and "Ave Maria," a solo set to music by Schubert and featuring the stunning Erin Yarbrough all choreographed by Michael Smuin.
A new creation by choreographer Robert Dekkers, "The Bells," is a wonderful addition to the classical lineup. Set to the traditional song "The Carol of the Bells," the piece demands speed, precision, and extraordinary energy from its cast of three men and three women. The structure of the dance loosely follows the structure of the song, with the dancers moving between harmony, canon, and unison.
After the intermission comes Cool Christmas, wherein the choreographers and dancers get to display their more theatrical and comedic talents. The pieces are diverse, high-energy and humorous, and set to more contemporary music, from jazz to rock 'n' roll to electronic remixes of pop standards.
No Christmas Ballet program would be complete without Smuin’s classic "Santa Baby." This is Erica Felsch’s first year performing the role, and she brought her own cheeky interpretation, coping beautifully with the super-sized feather boa and perilous heels. The audience also welcomed the return of Val Caniparoli’s "Jingle Bells Mambo," featuring John Speed Orr, Weston Krukow, and Jonathan Powell as a trio of tipsy sleazes à la Christopher Walken’s "The Continental" character from "Saturday Night."
Guest performer and Smuin Ballet alum Shannon Hurlburt brought the house down with Smuin's "Bells of Dublin," a sort of tap/Irish step dancing fusion that has been a staple of The Christmas Ballet for over a decade.
Smuin Ballet has a crop of excellent new dancers this year. In particular, Jo-Ann Sundermeier stands out for her elegant technique and engaging stage presence in her opening solo in Smuin's "Jauchzet Frohlocket." Krukow, another new member, is listed as an apprentice in the program, but was cast in many roles and danced with exceptional assurance and enthusiasm.
The resilience and flexibility that comes with being in a smallish regional ballet company came in handy on opening night in Mountain View, when, despite major last-minute cast changes, the company pulled off a smooth and highly entertaining performance. Many in the audience have been coming to the Christmas Ballet for years, and knew to bring their umbrellas for when the snow starts falling in the auditorium during the final number.
"XXmas: The Christmas Ballet" is touring the Bay Area and will be playing at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts through Sunday.