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Smuin Contemporary Ballet Presents ‘The Christmas Ballet’ Via Free Livestream
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Tuesday, December 19, 2023
 

BY KAREN BOSSICK

Michael Smuin wanted to treat San Francisco Bay-area residents to a performance that evoked the spirit of the holidays through the artistry of dance.

But he didn’t want to do “The Nutcracker,” which was already being presented by umpteen other Bay-area dance companies. So, in 1995, he created his own show “The Christmas Ballet,” which he touted as “a little ballet, a little Broadway and a whole lot of Smuin.”

His San Francisco-based Smuin Contemporary Ballet, now in its 30th year, is presenting an updated version of that Christmas show on Saturday. And The Argyros is inviting the community to a free livestream of it at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 23, as its Christmas gift to the community.

Sun Valley is the only community in the entire United States in which the ballet is being livestreamed.

“it’s become a real tradition for many families here in the Bay Area,” said Celia Fushille, the company’s artistic director of 17 years. “We hope to eventually perform live in Sun Valley. But, for now, we hope we can introduce Sun Valley audiences to the magic via the livestream production. We performed via livestream during the pandemic when we couldn’t perform live, and it worked really well. This livestream is for the Sun Valley audience and patrons who gift it to friends and family who can’t be in San Francisco for the in-person performance.”

Smuin Contemporary Ballet was founded in 1994 by Smuin, who started out as a principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre and the San Francisco Ballet, where he was co-artistic director from 1973 through 1985.

The late Michael Smuin choreographed for a variety of mediums, including the Dance Theatre of Harlem, Pacific Northwest Ballet and Washington Ballet. His Broadway credits include “Anything Goes” and “Shogun: The Musical,” while his film credits included “The Fantasticks,” “A Walk in the Clouds,” “The Joy Luck Club” and “The Cotton Club.”

The Missoula-born choreographer won a 1984 Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Choreography for “Great Performances: Dance in America,” and a 1988 Tony Award and Drama Desk Award for Best Choreography for “Anything Goes.”

The Christmas Ballet features 16 dancers who perform 22 to 24 live performances each year, taking their shows on the road domestically and internationally.

The first act of “The Christmas Ballet” features classical holiday music against a pristine white backdrop of beautiful satin swags decorating the stage and female dancers dressed very elegantly in white pointe shoes and men in silk tunics. The music includes Bach’s “Magnificat” and “A Spanish Carol.”

The second act features Christmas pop selections set against a bright red backdrop. Sometimes jazzy, it features a variety of dance styles. It includes a signature dance that Smuin created to “Santa Baby,” along with a big mix of carols from “White Christmas” to “Little Drummer Boy.”

“The dancers have to be really, really versatile,” Fushille said. “They enjoy showing off classical technique in the first act, and they have fun breaking out in the second. I was the original Santa Baby.”

When created, Smuin Contemporary Ballet hit the road touring to Los Angeles and New York, quickly gaining a national reputation. It has performed “Swan Lake,” and it has performed to music by the Beatles and Frank Sinatra.

“Some audience members come to our performances and say, ‘I didn’t know I liked ballet—this is great,’ ” said Fushille. “Michael wanted everybody to enjoy the beauty of it and his approach has made it more approachable for those who don’t know about ballet.”

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