Related Articles: Theater, All

Christmas Ballet

Back in 1995, choreographer Michael Smuin decided he wanted to create a holiday ballet for his spectators without resorting to another hackneyed reproduction of the Nutcracker. "I went into a creative gestation period, pondering the situation. When I emerged, the result was the Christmas Ballet - hopefully, a breath of fresh air in the sugar-plum-perfumed days of December!" Smuin quips. Now, his Christmas Ballet performances are old hat in San Francisco, but in the best way imaginable. Lauded as the Bay Area's most popular and sold-out ballet performance of the year, the Smuin Ballet's holiday festivities draw crowds from near and far for their inventiveness and playful humor. Every year, audiences look forward to a fresh new production of the Christmas Ballet, and Smuin and company don't disappoint.

Founded in 1994 by Smuin, the former Director of San Francisco Ballet and winner of several Emmy and Tony Awards, the Smuin Ballet is the love child of its founder's invariable dalliance with show business. Replete with dazzling re-imaginings of traditional performances as well as radiant, whimsical new contrivances of their own, the Smuin Ballet has set everything from French folk music to German film cabaret to dance. The tremendous success of the Smuin Ballet, however, is primarily due to its host of faithful patrons, who come back time and again for the company's enchanting divertissements.

In the past, the Christmas Ballet has linked Mozart with Elvis with Motown with Trinidadian calypso with tap dance with, of course, ballet. Rife with altar boys, dancing Christmas trees, starry-eyed vamps and flirty hula dancers, the performance gracefully harmonizes traditional Christmas ballets with riotous ingenuity. A saucy vaudevillian sensibility effortlessly seeps into willowy arabesques that could otherwise be predictable and ephemeral.

Every year, Smuin devises brilliant new material for his holiday performance. This year, Act I, "The Classical Christmas", will be accompanied by hymns and incantations from Palestrina, Corelli and Mozart, among others. Also included are Russian Hannuka klezmer music and the passionate pomp of Bach's Christmas Oratorio; the Christmas Ballet transforms venerated music into a stomp-worthy symphony of jovial effulgence. In Act II, "The Cool Christmas", a kaleidoscopic cast of characters (from Elvis to a capering Frosty the Snowman) busts out to blues, R&B, twangy country and zydeco music.

While it boasts a cast of versatile and accomplished performers, the Christmas Ballet maintains its down-home, celebratory unpretentiousness. With no visible purpose other than to bring a smile of wonder to its viewers' faces, this year's performance is sure to dole out more than a few desirable surprises for carousers and conventionalists alike.

Smuin Ballets
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater
701 Mission Street (bet. 3rd & 4th )
San Francisco, CA 94103
<a href="http://www.smuinballets.com/">www.smuinballets.com</a>;, <a href="http://www.yerbabuenaarts.org/b_ybca.html">more information</a>