Smuin Ballet/SF

"The Christmas Ballet"

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, CA

December 18, 2001
By Lisa Claybaugh

Michael Smuin's middle name is diversity. This is a choreographer who one week is working on the new "Star Wars" film, the next week is in New York retooling some revival, and the next week is back in San Francisco creating a new ballet for his small company. The Christmas Ballet is a good example of the two things Smuin does the best: classical ballet and crowd-pleasing fluff.

The first act, entitled "Classic Christmas", is a series of pieces using the music of Bach, Corelli, Palestrina, Mozart and traditional carols, with a little of klezmer thrown in for good measure. Dressed all in white, the dancers performed Smuin's own brand of ballet, which stays on the more contemporary style, with innovative partnering (some high flying ballerinas) and clear lines. Some of the partnering was shaky and insecure, suggesting that the dancers could have used some more rehearsal time. Stand out performances included Celia Fushille-Burke in several solos (what beautiful feet!) and youngster Roberto Cisneros. This kid showed more solid technique and confidence than the two seasoned professionals flanking him did.

Between acts was a short bonus performance by pianist John Bayless. This heir-apparent to Liberace, entertained the audience with a few showy Christmas tune medleys, a bawdy song and an impromptu rendition of Silver Bells in the style of Rachmaninoff.

Michael Smuin isn't called Mr. Showbiz for nothing. The second act, "The Cool Christmas", was really more of a series vignettes than a collection of dances. There was a little of everything a "Revelations" tribute, a couple of sexy numbers, a silly hula ditty complete with shark and surfboard, a little lindy hop, a little mambo, a little Riverdance, a couple of tap numbers, and Roberto Cisneros to fulfill the cute factor. Music was provided by Louis Armstrong, Eartha Kitt, Willie Nelson, Lou Rawls, Duke Ellington, Bing Crosby and other American icons. Michael Smuin has his finger on the pulse of pop culture, and in a just few images you know exactly what he is doing. In this most accessible of acts, he used every cliché in the book, and we all loved it.

This is not high art. This is not some deep exploration of an obscure movement concept. It is simply lovely dancers doing pretty steps to fun music. It is salve for our collectively aching soul. It is exactly what is needed to put us into a happy holiday mood. I hope it's around for a while.


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Edited by Marie.

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