Taking in Smuin Contemporary Ballet’s “The Christmas Ballet” is a great way to get the holiday season started.
The troupe opened its month-long run (with upcoming performances in Carmel, Mountain View and San Francisco) of the charming show over the weekend at Walnut Creek’s Lesher Center of the Arts to a delighted audience pelted by a paper snowflake shower in the closing number, “White Christmas.”
It was a fitting end to the annual production established by the company’s namesake, Michael Smuin, in 1995, and, per tradition, featuring an uplifting, lovely classical, “white” first act and a jazzy, fun, sometimes even riotous, “red” act 2.
Set to tuneful traditional and pop holiday music, the show is a treat from start to finish. It’s seamless, too, as the numerous familiar works by dancer-choreographer Smuin, who died in 2007, are perfectly interspersed with newer pieces by past and present Smuin dancers Tessa Barbour, Nicole Haskins and Rex Wheeler.
Choreographer Amy Seiwert, who’s slated to take the artistic director reins from Celia Fushille (who succeeded Smuin) after the 2023-24 season, also contributed a few numbers, including the premiere “Catalan Carol” (flowing and geometric); “Noel Nouvelet” (a French duet); “Please Come Home” (moody and melancholy); “The Twelve Days of Christmas” (a hilarious merry mashup); “River” (romantic, to Joni Mitchell); and “Home for the Holidays” (with changing weather and tossed-around pumpkin pie).
As is often the case with Smuin, props and effects are used to enchanting show-bizzy effect. Of course, the stage-filling long boa made its entrance in “Santa Baby” and Terez Dean Orr made the most of the honor of wearing it on Friday. Yet while the feathers are fun, Smuin’s clever moves (the solo gal sassily and literally rolls around with coat- and hat-clad guys) really are what make the dance so memorable.
The company really gets to go to town, particularly in the production’s second half, in “Christmas Island,” with hula, tap dancing, a fabric-flowing ocean, surfers and a Santa-hat-wearing shark; “Christmas in New Orleans,” set to crooning by the unmistakable Satchmo; and the sock hop in “Winter Weather,” which proved a nice complement to Haskins’ sleigh ride-inspired premiere “Ring Ting Tingling.”
Notable solos on opening night were Marc LaPierre in “Drummer Boy” (complete with baton twirling) and Barbour’s dazzling Irish step dancing in “Bells of Dublin.”
Bolstered by terrific lighting by Michael Oesch, costumes by Sandra Woodall and scenery by Douglas Schmidt, these are the dancers giving their all: Brandon Alexander, Barbour, Ian Buchanan, Maggie Carey, Mengjun Chen, Gabrielle Collins, Ricardo Dyer, Cassidy Isaacson, Sarah Jordan, Ramona Kelley, Tess Lane, La Pierre, Dean Orr, Jace Pauly, Yuri Rogers, João Sampaio and Brennan Wall.
Managing to be alternately gentle and graceful, athletic and powerful, and funnier than clowns, they’re worth checking out in “The Christmas Ballet.” Yes, Virginia, there indeed is more to holiday dance than “The Nutcracker.”
Smuin Contemporary Ballet’s “The Christmas Ballet” continues Dec. 1-2 at Sunset Center in Carmel; Dec. 7-10 at Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View; Dec. 14-24 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 500 Howard St., San Francisco. Tickets are $25 to $119 at smuinballet.org.