Tuesday, November 29, 2011

"The Christmas Ballet"

Robert Sund's "Oh, Holy Night" - Photo by Keith Sutter
Smuin Ballet
Lesher Center for the Arts, Walnut Creek, CA
November 25, 2011

Want a perfect way to kick off the holiday season?  Check out Smuin Ballet's 2011 edition of their famed "Christmas Ballet".  The first performances of this celebratory revue were held last weekend in Walnut Creek at the Lesher Center for the Arts and with this joyous collection of dance, one could feel the shift into festive merriment.  Broken into two acts, dubbed 'The Classical Christmas' and 'The Cool Christmas', this production is a perfect ten.

Thirty-three short numbers fill the stage over the course of two hours, each with their own flavor and feeling.  In the first act, the genres ranged from the lyrical interweaving of Celia Fushille's "Resonet in Laudibus" to the Celtic footwork of Michael Smuin's "The Gloucestershire Wassail" to the classical ballet of Amy Seiwert's "Sleigh Ride".  In the many different vignettes and scenes, particular moments of technical bliss stood out including John Speed Orr's stunning tour jet√© in the overture, Susan Roemer's port de corps in penche√© during "Sleep Well" and Darren Anderson's flawless partnering skills.  "For Unto Us a Child is Born" introduced the best quartet I have seen in a long time (Robin Cornwall/Darren Anderson, Susan Roemer/Jonathan Dummar).  Although a very short sequence in the overall piece, these four dancers have a kind of intuition that cannot be taught.

Act II brought a fun variety of choreographic stylings all set to contemporary holiday music.  Fifties nostalgia was found in "Winter Weather", Broadway jazz in "Santa Baby", and Appalachian clogging in "Droopy Little Christmas Tree".  A somewhat surprising and delightful discovery made during the second half of the program is that Smuin Ballet is home to some of the better tap dancers in the SF/Bay Area: Erica Chipp, Mallory Welsh and Shannon Hurlburt.  Because rhythm tap is the trend for percussive dance these days, it is easy to forget that the more performative expressions of tap are equally (and perhaps even more) compelling.  Robert Sund's new piece for this year's "Christmas Ballet" was a lovely addition.  His musing on "Oh, Holy Night" (a pas de trois for Jonathan Mangosing, John Speed Orr and Jonathan Powell) not only had the best synchronicity of the evening but also was a tender, delicate and emotional dance for three men that still looked very masculine. 

Visit Smuin Ballet's website for upcoming performances of "The Christmas Ballet" in Carmel, Mountain View and San Francisco:

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