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halls! Here comes Michael Smuins Christmas Ballet. Polished to
near-perfection, all wrapped up in kitsch, its a wonderful antidote for holiday
stress, blues, whatever it is thats dragging you down. Or not. And theres nary
a Nutcracker in sight. Sharks, a drunken Santa and a tap-dancing snowman but no
Nutcrackers. This annual confection has been around for eight seasons now and the company
has it down pat. The dancing is smooth as a silk gift ribbon and precise as nine lords
aleaping. Which is not to say that its more ho hum than ho ho ho. Its
hard to tell whos having more fun, the dancers or the audience.
It starts out with A Classical Christmas, Smuins 12-part setting of traditional carols and other holiday music. Beginning with a segment of Bachs Magnificat and ending with a grand finale out of the same composers Christmas Oratorio, this is something of a white ballet, en pointe and classical as its name. With a few exceptions. Rodolphe Cassand danced a wonderfully athletic solo to Riu, Riu Chiu, a traditional Spanish song, and Roberto Cisneros brought the house down in a rocking gospel setting of Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy. The Gloucestershire Wassail was something straight out of Riverdance (maybe a little better) but the best was yet to come and it had nothing to do with Christmas at all.
Licht Benshn, a nod to Chanukah, opens with the marvelous Celia Fushille-Burke, the best dancer in the Smuin stable, dancing alone to a melting clarinet. This segues into a spirited klezmer hora, during which she is courted by a quartet of yeshiva students and then left alone again. But one (Easton Smith) returns and the segment ends in a joyous pas de deux.
Another lovely dance for two was done to the Largo from Corellis Christmas Concerto by Lee Bell and former Kirov and San Francisco Ballet soloist Galina Alexandrova, in her second season with Smuin Ballet and a possible successor to Fushille-Burkes crown. Generally, however, Smuins choreography is at its most original in the ethnic and character segments. With the exception of Largo, the strictly classical portions of A Classical Christmas contained nothing that hasnt been seen before.
A word about background and lighting. Sara Linnie Slocum has got to be the Pablo Picasso of local lighting design. Whether a sky full of stars or tongues of flame against a night sky, her background projections were perfect for each scene. She floods the stage with colored light that becomes an integral part of the dance. A delightful overture to each act is painterly as well: Renaissance angels and trumpeters for Act One and a series of childrens brightly-colored holiday drawings for Act Two.
And Act Two, The Cool Christmas, is what people will think of when they think of The Christmas Ballet. Louis Armstrong, Willie Nelson, Leon Redbone, Tchaikovsky by way of Duke Ellington this is an eclectic grab bag of pop that begins sedately enough with an ensemble dance to Armstrongs Christmas in New Orleans and Shannon Hurlbuts fantastic solo to Little Drummer Boy and slides farther and farther off the wall as it goes on.
Fushille-Burke trails the worlds longest feather boa and a string of sugar daddies to Eartha Kitts famous Santa Baby and pairs again with Easton for a funny and seductive Baby Its Cold Outside. Frosty the Snowman (Pedro Gamino) tap dances across the stage, as does a trio of Christmas trees headed for the garbage dump (perhaps an homage to Beach Blanket Babylon). There is a riotous Reggae Christmas, courtesy of the Heptones and another Riverdance turn by Shannon Hurlbut to The Chieftains The Bells of Dublin.
Theres Rudolph and Sugar Rum Cherry, a sexy version of the dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy from The Nutcracker and the whole thing gets goofier and goofier as Smuin pulls out all the stops and every sight gag in Santas bag of tricks. Funniest of all is Redbones Christmas Island, a hula in paradise, complete with surfers and shark.
Where will it all end? With a ring-a-ding-Bing, of course. White Christmas brings the curtain down in a mini-blizzard of snow, falling on dancers and audience alike. Not to mention a storm of applause.
December 19, 2002 - Suzanne Weiss