Jul 29, 2014

Smuin Ballet Cooks Up a Favorite Holiday Treat

Two new voices add spice to the company's already heady blend of ballet, swing and tap.

Smuin Ballet Cooks Up a Favorite Holiday Treat

Smuin Ballet’s holiday favorite brings repurposing — a hot trend in everything from art to gift-giving — to Walnut Creek’s Lesher stage with brand spanking-new additions to company founder Michael Smuin’s The Christmas Ballet, Friday, Nov. 25, and Saturday, Nov. 26.

The add-ons, fresh off the soft-sprung floor of the company’s rehearsal studio in San Francisco, are delivered courtesy of choreographers Amy Seiwert and Robert Sund.

Sund has created a second act men’s trio, which opens a lush gospel section Artistic Director Celia Fushille is reintroducing into the ballet. Blending the cherished legacy of Smuin with new artistic voices has won Fushille local and national recognition and the company critical acclaim.

Seiwert’s uncanny ability to climb inside a piece of music and turn it into perfect physical expression is one reason she is the Smuin Ballet’s resident choreographer.

Fushille invited her to choreograph something for Act I. Not surprisingly, Seiwert made an unusual musical selection.

“I added a new solo to Mannheim Steamroller's mash-up of Patapan and God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman. In the Renaissance style, this medley has a wonderful sense of grounded strength, precision and passion,” she wrote, in an email from on the road.

Seiwert not only contributes repertoire to Smuin Ballet, she directs her own company, Imagery, and has received commissions from Ohio’s Ballet Met, Colorado Ballet, Atlanta Ballet, Sacramento Ballet and many others. 

Her popularity as a dance maker means “on the road” is nearly equivalent to “home,” but Seiwert said working with the Smuin Ballet dancers is special.

“I've been connected to the company for 12 years. Dancers like Erin Yarbrough Stewart; I've been creating on for almost 10 years. There is a deeper dialogue in the process — each time we begin something new we can have a richer starting point since we've already discovered so much together.”

The new solo utilizes a long skirt, instead of a male partner, to broaden the relational aspect of the dance Seiwert described as highly technical and a bit Morris dance in style.

“You could think of Christmas Ballet as a very involved recipe for the entire Thanksgiving meal. All the ingredients have to complement each other. With this solo, I've added a strong one, but hopefully one that [adds] a surprising new flavor to the overall sense of the evening.”

As so often happens with a good meal served to a crowd, the company has a “sous-chef” working behind the scenes.

Ballet Master Amy London manages to get all those couples doing overhead presses and intricate manipulations at exactly the same moment—without the dancers losing their individuality—and her history with the company adds a stamp of authenticity to the production.

Fushille often notes that Smuin had a love of all forms of movement. Because of that, the amalgamation of swing, tap, ballet, and now Morris dancing spins a magical web and avoids what could be a disjointed presentation. Many families return, year after year, making it a family tradition.

Seiwert remembered her first experience, back in 1999.

“I was the 'Surfer Girl' in Christmas Island. When I first came out, the audience broke out in a huge explosion of laughter. I'd never felt the audience so involved with what was happening onstage. Their reaction was fantastic. Definitely not the same type of response as one gets when performing Nutcracker. And don't get me wrong, I loved performing Nutcracker — but it was great to feel the audience break down the 'fourth wall' and not be afraid to laugh out loud and enjoy what they were seeing.”


The Christmas Ballet 2011 Edition runs 8 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. & 8 p.m. Saturday

Lesher Center for the Arts: Hofmann Theatre

Tickets: 925-943-7469

Address: 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek 94596

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