SMUIN in Stilettos, Slippers, and Tap Shoes


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SMUIN dancers Nicole Haskins, Mengjun Chen, and Lauren Pschirrer in We Three Kings, created by dancer Rex Wheeler, part of Smuin’s annual The Christmas Ballet.

Photo by Keith Sutter

The late choreographer Michael Smuin had a flair for creating ballets as an accessible fine art. He also had a taste for music of the pop variety as well as from Europe’s classic traditions. Though an unusual combination, nowhere did it work more successfully than in his 1995 The Christmas Ballet, the year after he founded the company. This year is the 10th anniversary of Smuin’s death, and the work has become an evergreen holiday tradition. This month The Christmas Ballet again starts its yearly journey around the Bay in Walnut Creek’s splendid Lesher Center for the Arts.

Now known as SMUIN Contemporary American Ballet, the ensemble’s 16 dancers are an unusually versatile group who don’t mind performing in toe shoes as well as stiletto heels, dance slippers, and tap shoes. It may be hard on the feet, but great fun for the audience.

In the ballet’s first half, the balletic “The Classical Christmas,” dancers perform in tune with Bach, Mozart, and  beloved carols; after intermission, they go to town rocking in “The Cool Christmas” with the help of, among others, Louis Armstrong and Eartha Kitt.

To keep the work from wilting, Artistic Director Celia Fushille switches individual pieces in and out for new choreography by, among others, resident choreographer Amy Seiwert, Bay Area dance maker Val Caniparoli, and various company members such as Nicole Haskins.

Seiwert, who has been a member of SMUIN as a dancer/choreographer since the beginning, will contribute her last work—set to a Vivaldi trumpet concerto—to this holiday favorite. She was recently appointed artistic director of Sacramento Ballet.

While small changes in a much-appreciated piece are welcome, you don’t have to worry about its jewels, which give this Christmas ballet its ongoing vitality. Would you want to miss Veni, Veni Emmanuel? "White Christmas" will close the show. 

The Christmas Ballet, Nov. 17, 8 p.m. and Nov. 18, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., Lesher Center for the Arts, Walnut Creek, $57-$82, 925-943-7469, SMUINBallet.org. 

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