Smuin ‘Christmas Ballet’ is classic and new

Smuin Ballet Executive Director Celia Fushille has two objectives that seem contradictory, but form a perfect whole: to honor and continue the work of company founder Michael Smuin and move the organization into the future.

Smuin died two and a half years ago, just days before the company’s season-opener, but Smuin Ballet continued without a pause, and it has gone on and thrived since.

Working around the clock to prepare for the long series of “The Christmas Ballet” performances, Fushille says the holiday treat is typical of the mission to look backward and forward at the same time.

The idea for the uniquely mixed-genre work and much of the choreography came from Smuin, but Fushille has introduced numerous new pieces and hired new dancers.

“We love and cherish Michael,” she says, “and we have to move on — just as he always renewed and expanded works.”

Smuin Ballet is also a kind of equal-time David against the San Francisco Ballet Goliath, a company of hundreds, with a budget of $44.7 million, performing “Nutcracker” 31 times.

Smuin Ballet, which has 16 dancers and a budget of $3.1 million, presents “The Christmas Ballet” 26 times around the Bay, including 14 shows in the Yerba Buena Center.

The two companies get along just fine. Smuin was a former artistic director of the S.F. Ballet, and such stars as Evelyn Cisneros and Joanna Berman led classes at Smuin Ballet until their recent departures to Southern California and Toronto, respectively.

Former SFB soloist Robert Sund is the choreographer for one of the new pieces in “The Christmas Ballet.” His “Winter Wonderland” is set to the seasonal song by Felix Bernard, sung by Diana Krall.

Former Sacramento Ballet principal dancer Amy Seiwert, now the Smuin’s choreographer in residence, is contributing a new dance to Aaron Neville’s “Please Come Home for Christmas.”

Many original pieces by Smuin remain in the holiday show, including those set to music by Bach, Corelli, Mozart and Handel, as well as carols, pop and jazz, and even a Russian Hanukkah klezmer.

A memorable centerpiece in the pop section is “Santa Baby” to the Eartha Kitt recording, complete with a feather boa that stretches from one side of the stage to the other. Merry indeed.

If you go

The Christmas Ballet

Presented by Smuin Ballet

Where: Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 700 Howard St., San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. Dec. 16, 17, 18, 22; 2 and 8 p.m. Dec. 19, 23, 26; 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 20; 2 p.m. Dec. 24, 27

Tickets: $18 to $56

Contact: (415) 978-2787, www.smuinballet.org

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