By Scott MacClelland
SMUIN BALLET FANS don’t usually expect premieres in its annual Christmas Ballet at Sunset Center in Carmel. Those are usually reserved for Smuin’s other two annual appearances here, in March and June. Nevertheless, they got four of them, one in the first act “Classical Christmas” and three in the second “Cool Christmas.” This production packed 15 numbers into Act I and 13 in Act II, a dizzyingly-paced parade of riotous ensembles, solos, duos and full 16-member company spectacles. At that rate, costume and scene changes were barely possible. The Act I set consisted of tall hanging curtains, cinched at the waste, with variations only done with lighting. Like them, costumes were all in shades of white. In Act II, vivid reds with touches of black took over, as did the set, plus some mostly amusing props.
The Classical Christmas used a variety of familiar Christmas music, some JS Bach, “For unto us a child is born” from Handel’s Messiah, old and traditional seasonal songs from Europe, a bit from Mozart’s Mass in C Minor, Nana Mouskouri singing Schubert’s Ave Maria and Placido Domingo in La Virgen Lava Pañales. Erin Yarbrough-Powell and her husband Jonathan duoed to choreographer Amy Seiwert’s Noel nouvelet, an old French Christmas song sung unaccompanied. Especially delicate were the women of the company in Veni, veni Emanuel. Dancer/choreographer Rex Wheeler’s We Three Kings, a world premiere, was danced by three couples. (See photo above.) The company used Irish stepdance, all action from the waist down, for the Gloucestershire Wassail. Nicole Haskins soloed in the Hanukkah ‘Candle Blessing’ then was joined by the men of the company in ‘Sleep Well,’ a witty flirtation that provoked giggles in the audience. The entire company ended the set with Haskins’ own design for Joy to the World.
Cool Christmas began with the voice of The Jackson 5—with a boy soprano named Michael—in Santa Claus is Coming to Town. Following immediately, the voice of Louis Armstrong singing Christmas in New Orleans, the company now costumed, hatted and strutting in style. Then came the predictably popular and funny Santa Baby, to the unique voice of Eartha Kitt, with glittery red Erica Felsch dragging her 30-foot feather boa across the stage, and being rolled, crowd surfing-style, atop the men of the company, all in black overcoats and hats. (This seems to be the one number that reappears every year, and amen to that!) Leon Redbone’s Christmas Island got lots of laughs when Erica Felsch, Lauren Pschirrer, Nicole Haskins and Terez Dean, danced the hula and Rex Wheeler struggled to stay atop a surfboard, while ocean waves swelled and a shark fin scared one of the women into Wheeler’s arms. Back to Ireland for Michael Wells delivering a big tap solo to Bells of Dublin, only to be joined by five of his colleagues, also in tap, for Belles of Blackville Reel.
Terez Dean and Ben Needham-Wood danced the world premiere of Amy Seiwert’s River, designed to go with Joni Mitchell’s haunting, lonely Christmas ballad. Nicole Haskins’ J-i-n-g-l-e Bells (see photo, right) was another world premiere, as was the the final number, to The Drifters’ White Christmas, Ben Needham-Wood’s update of Michael Smuin’s original, with snow floating down on the stage and the audience, up through row M.
As usual, Sunset Center was sold out for the Smuin holiday favorite, which was only enhanced by the inclusion of new choreography by Seiwert and members of the company. I’m still picking bits of snow off my sweater.
Photos by Keith Sutter