By Scott MacClelland
SMUIN BALLET does “Classical” and “Cool” like no other company, thanks in large measure to its proprietary choreography by late founder Michael Smuin whose work holds a dominant position in the annual Christmas Ballet program now on tour. The second of two performances in Carmel, seen in a Saturday matinee, with an audience that included lots of kids, offered something for everyone. But there was no dancing down; this was sophisticated stuff that, in the ‘Cool’ second half, evoked no small amount of laughter at the numerous slick tricks and sight gags.
It would seem obvious that the turns, swivels, body language and facial looks would take their cues from the music and words of this pageant of mostly seasonal songs. But, under artistic director Celia Fushille, those cues seemed to inspire even more surprising choreographic phrases and gestures than Smuin’s annual event here in years past. The always-popular Santa Baby, to Eartha Kitt’s immortal 1953 take on the Springer/Javits classic, gave Erica Felsch and the men of the company (above) a new bunch of twists along with the most familiar bits. It was as recognizable as it was fresh.
And fresh is the word that made this show feel like a Christmas present being unwrapped as if just pulled out from under the tree.
The first half—Classical—opened with JS Bach’s Magnificat, the women wrapped in colorful capes. Those were then abandoned in favor of shades of white, like the set itself. Highlights included Hodie Christus natus est to music from the 16th century by Palestrina and the even more ancient Veni, veni Emmanuel. Resident choreographer Amy Seiwert created her own versions of the Carol of the Bells and the rollicking Troika from Prokofiev’s Lt. Kije. Hanukkah was celebrated with Licht Bensh’n and Dobra Notsch (right.) The set concluded with dancer Nicole Haskins’ Joy to the World for the entire company, a World Premiere. (See photo at top of the page.)
Like the first half, the second—Cool—with set and costumes dominated by red with touches of black contained 14 numbers. Variety in both halves was underscored by small ensembles, solos, duos, vivid lighting—sometimes dark and mysterious, sometimes explosively bright—and special effects. Cool began with drawings by young children projected on the scrim, while Louis Armstrong recited T’was The Night Before Christmas. That abruptly cut off in favor of Santa Claus is Coming to Town sung by the Jackson Five. (Remember them?) With plenty of pelvis bumps and crawling with adoring women, Elvis Presley’s Blue Christmas brought The King back to life in the person of Weston Krukow (left.) Ben Needham-Wood and two drum sticks soloed in his original creation of Drummer Boy, to the voice of Lou Rawls. Willie Nelson’s Pretty Paper had its way with one extremely versatile blue ribbon in a duet by Erin Yarbrough-Powell and Ben Needham-Wood.
On a blacked-out stage, three Christmas trees appeared with only tiny lights to outline them. As the stage lights came up, Dustin James, Weston Krukow and Robert Moore turned Droopy Little Christmas Tree into a feast of tap dancing. Benny Martin’s music ended with ‘nobody cares what happens to me…nobody loves me, they throw me away.’ The scene ended to the sound of a wood chipper.
For this show, Amy Seiwert’s Home for the Holidays (below) got its World Premiere, as Perry Como crooned. Snowflakes galore came gushing down on the stage and on several rows of the audience for the spectacular finish on White Christmas by—who else?—Bing Crosby.
All photos by Chris Hardy