Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
Also see Richard's review of Irving Berlin's White Christmas
It would not Christmas without Smuin, the wonderful a dance company celebrating a decade of magnificent eclectic dance with ballet, tap, swing, jazz and pop. The company is currently on display at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco through December 24th. Michael Smuin created the The Christmas Ballet 22 years ago. He was well known on Broadway since he created the choreography for the 1987 revival of Anything Goes and won a Tony for his work. He also created the dance movements for Mack and Mable and films like Cotton Club and Return of the Jedi. Smuin was looking for an alternative holiday dance entertainment with different types of holiday dance performances. So he created a show for his dancers to perform to popular songs, multi-denominational songs, seasonal music, and off-beat Christmas tunes along with classic ballet. This has been performing at various venues for the past 22 years during the Christmas season.
The Christmas Ballet is divided into a classical first half and a jazzy second half. Young, graceful dancers dance exquisitely to the sounds of Bach, Corelli, Palestrina, Mozart, and traditional carols. Act one opens to the thrilling sounds of Bach's "Magnificat" with the company dressed in white performing wonderfully to the music. Erin Yarbrough-Powell is stunning as she dances to Schubert's "Ave Maria." The new work is a world premiere dance by London born dancer Rex Wheeler (most recently featured in Garrett Ammon's Madness, Rack and Honey) to John Henry Hopkins, Jr.'s "We Three Kings of Orient Are" impressively dance by the company. The highlight for me in the first act is the company intricately dancing to the traditional "Gloucestershire Wassail" and the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah with Licht Bensh'n "Candle Blessing" to klezmer music with Nicole Haskins dancing by herself and a group of yeshiva students dancing a hora around her. It all ends in the first act with the company beautifully dancing to "Joy to the World."
The second act, aptly named "Cool Christmas," opens with drawings by 8-year-old students, a recording by Louis Armstrong reading "A Visit from Saint Nicholas," and the whole cast splendidly dancing "Christmas in New Orleans" to a recording of Louis Armstrong with Benny's Carter's Orchestra. This is followed by Erin Yarbrough-Powell sensually dancing to Eartha Kitt's recording of "Santa Baby" with the men of the Smuin. The all-time favorite is the Heptones singing "Christmas Island" with three hula dancers coming onto the stage and a husky Rex Wheeler clowning on a surfboard unaware that there is shark with a Santa Clause cap in the water. Another highlight is the return of Shannon Hurlburt. He amazes everyone in audience with an Irish "Riverdance" tap dance followed by six astounding tap dancers performing to the strains of The Chieftains singing "The Bells of Dublin." It made my Irish heart beat faster. Jonathan Powell was fantastic dancing to Lou Rawls' recording of "Little Drummer Boy" while Michael Wells seduced with a sly smile for Erica Felsch in "Baby, It's Cold Outside." It all ends with the company coming on stage with winter outfits and snow pouring onto the stage and Irving Berlin's "White Christmas."
This show certainly put me in a Christmas mood.
The Smuin The Christmas Ballet plays at Yerba Buena Center for the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater, 700 Howard Street at Third, San Francisco, through December 24th, 2016. For tickets call (415) 912-1899 or visit www.smuinballet.org.