Smuin ‘Christmas Ballet’ supplies excitement, fun
Since I’m Jewish, I typically avoid reviewing arts and entertainment items related to Yuletide.
But I’ve made an exception this year for “The Christmas Ballet,” the Smuin troupe’s ever-changing annual spectacle, because my granddaughter’s been engaged in the dance form and could accompany my wife and me.
I’m glad I broke my avoidance tradition.
There was a bonus, too: We were pleasantly surprised to find a Chanukah-linked inclusion in the show at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater in San Francisco, “Licht bensh’n,” which translates as “Candle Blessing,” a ritual we follow with our granddaughter on Friday nights as well as during the holiday.
That playful yarmulke-embellished novelty number appears toward the end of the classical-dance orientation of the first act, which is filled with elegant costumes almost as white as the driven snow I remember from my New York childhood but Bay Area residents never get to see.
Other highlights in Act I, which includes compositions from Bach, Mozart, Handel and Schubert, are an incredibly potent solo rendering of “Ave Maria” by ballerina Erin Yarbrough-Powell; a world premiere of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” exquisitely performed by Ian Buchanan and Mattia Pallozzi to the choreography of Rex Wheeler; “Riu, Riu, Chiu” spotlighting fiery Latin rhythms; and stylized, coolish Irish clog-dancing to “The Gloucestershire Wassail” that stirs up memories of “Riverdance.”
For Act II, the costume color scheme switches radically — to red, red and more red.
Exciting. Vibrant. Hot.
As are the pop-oriented pieces danced to recordings by Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Leon Redbone, Judy Garland, Brenda Lee and Bing Crosby — and reminiscent of theatrics in more than one Broadway musical-comedy.
Both my wife and I choose as our favorite interlude the comedically sultry, show-stopping “Santa Baby,” Eartha Kitt’s earthy tune performed purr-fectly by Terez Dean Orr, who drags a 42-foot-long boa (composed of seven six-foot pieces sewn together) across the stage.
My much-more-modern 11-year-old granddaughter prefers “Christmas Tree Rock,” because of its slapstick depiction of a lively, mischievous evergreen.
Also delightful to watch, however, is a second world premiere, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” a pas de deux by Erica Felsch; “Blue Christmas,” featuring a hip-swinging mock Elvis; “Winter Weather,” a bouncy offshoot of the big-band sounds of Benny Goodman; a tap number in front of the curtain, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” that facilitates scene and costume changes; “Christmas Island,” replete with hula dancers and offshore shark; and twirling silver sticks during “Drummer Boy” that shine like sun reflecting off snowflakes.
Over all, two fun-filled hours of bullet-train-paced entertainment.
Michael Smuin, who founded the company in 1994 and died in 2007, created “The Christmas Ballet” concept 24 years ago. I’m certain he’d be pleased it’s outlived him.
And I’d be willing to give three to one odds that most opening night San Francisco attendees, who applauded politely at much of the first act’s offerings but wildly clapped and cheered at all of the second’s, would heartily agree.
To be sure, that crowd gleefully shouted its approval at the animation projected onto the curtain at intermission, at being sprinkled with snowflake-simulating confetti during the “White Christmas” finale, and, finally, at the ensemble’s madcap peeking-beneath-the-curtain curtain calls.
Smuin’s “The Christmas Ballet” will be performed through Dec. 24 at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 700 Howard St. (at Third), San Francisco. Evening performances, 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; matinees, 2 p.m. Wednesdays and Fridays through Sundays, with a special 1 p.m. Monday performance Dec. 24. Tickets: $25 to $91. Information: 415-912-1899 or www.smuinballet.org.