I was raised semi-Jewish. I say semi because in the fourth grade my rabbi requested that I cease and desist. Er, pack my knives and go. Aka withdraw from Hebrew school.
Apparently, I asked my instructors way too many scientifically minded questions. Thankfully, my parents didn’t pressure me to continue reading backwards or contemplate the many different Hebrew words for the dudette up in the sky, but I still enjoyed the boiled bagels from the local deli and spun dreidels at Hanukah. After entering my own imaginary pseudo-Hebrew school juvie, I started questioning the existence of a higher being and following an introverted bout of soul searching, plopped myself squarely in the Atheist camp, which pleased neither my Jewish grandmother nor my Lutheran (yet recently turned Protestant) nana (I firmly believe that my mother’s father couldn’t care less about my religious beliefs so long as I’m happy and healthy).
Yet upon turning the big 3-0, I’m still coming to grips with religion, specifically around the big year-end holidays. Like I’m somewhat incensed by the feverishly decorated Christmas tree sitting in my office lobby; the push to buy buy buy things for those you love, detest, clean up poop after, and barely know (yet I do it anyway because everyone sends me gifts; how can I not reciprocate?); and the holiday dance performances, which tend to be the big money makers that help the rest of each company’s dance season be financially viable.
Don’t get me wrong; I love a good “Nutcracker.” But what does it really have to do with Christmas? Is the underlying theme, “X-mas is all just a dream!” Or, heavens no, that there really is a magical Sugar Plum Fairy who can whisk you away at a moment’s notice to a land filled with high fructose corn syrup and red dye #40, and that Jesus nursed on candy and coffee during his first night in the manger?
Either way, I was skeptical about Smuin Ballet‘s “The Christmas Ballet.” The name slightly scares me. It’s not the holiday ballet; it’s focused on Christmas. Yikes. But I checked out the first half Wednesday afternoon at the company’s dress rehearsal and now feel semi-reassured.
Initially created in 1995 by the late Michael Smuin, “The Christmas Ballet” is in its 15th season and is updated periodically with new music and choreography. This year includes new contributions by Robert Sund and choreographer-in-residence Amy Seiwert. Abstract and fun, “The Christmas Ballet” doesn’t tell a story so much as convey the emotions and qualities of the holiday season–love, sacrifice, flirting, happiness, warmth, merry dancers leaping, and Elvis.
The “Classical Christmas” section includes ballet movement with pointe shoes for the ladies and a score of Bach, Corelli, and others. This is the more traditional section–think choral sounds, string instruments, step dancing, and even one section devoted to Hanukah. Or Judaism. Well, there are yarmulkes.
But the X-mas vibe is strong, so be prepared. The second half is “The Cool Christmas,” and features music by the King (not of Pop, mind you), Louis Armstrong, and others born during the most recent century or two. There’s tap dancing (here’s hoping the mics don’t make Shannon Hurlburt’s taps sound as tinny tonight as they did during the sound check Wednesday afternoon), showy movement, and a more upbeat feeling. But I can’t promise jazz hands.
But how does this ex-Jewish chick from South Florida feel about a ballet centered on the joys of Christmas? It’s peppy and contemporary, and even with the Christian vibe, passed my personal tolerance test. Smuin Ballet’s “The Christmas Ballet” runs through December 27th. So shalom, feliz navidad, and peace out.
What: Smuin Ballet’s “The Christmas Ballet”
Where: Novellus Theater at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 700 Howard Street, San Francisco
When: Dec. 16-27, 2009
Tickets: Available online or by calling 415.978.2787 or in person at the YBCA Box Office at 701 Mission Street.
Other: Join Smuin Ballet for the Young Professionals Soiree following the Dec. 18th performance. More information on the Soiree, including special ticket prices, is available here.