Diablo Ballet's A Swingin' Holiday Photo Berenger Zyla

Diablo Ballet’s A Swingin’ Holiday
Photo Berenger Zyla

Del Valle Theatre, Walnut Creek, CA
November 13, 2015

Bryn E Namavari

The holiday season is always highly anticipated. Growing up, every year included the tradition of attending a performance of The Nutcracker. My uncle played violin and usually played for the ballet each year. The occasion meant dressing up in the many-tiered white lace dress that was originally purchased for my duties as flower girl in my mother’s wedding, along with a red velvet ribbon at the waist and matching bows in my hair. The Nutcracker also meant gingerbread cookies and cocoa at intermission and often braving the snow on the drive home.

I still associate ballet with the holidays and Diablo Ballet’s 22nd season opening, A Swinging Holiday and More, fed my nostalgic yearnings that accompany this time of year. Artistic Director Lauren Jonas, again delivered an audience pleasing mix of pieces from the romantic to the exuberantly joyful.

The opening piece, the Tchaikovsky Dances duet by Norbert Vesak, set to Tchaikovsky’s score from the opera, Eugene Onegin, was especially notable. Created on Joanna Berman and Jonas at the Marin Ballet in 1980 when they were both only 15 years old, and best known for the performances by Cynthia Gregory and Fernando Bujones, here it was given a lovely and romantic performance by Amanda Farris and Raymond Tilton. They immediately reminded me of all of the reasons Tchaikovsky made me fall in love will ballet as a small girl, the piece lovingly coaxing the audience in to the show.

Following the duet, silhouetted dancers set against a sunset colored-background introduced AnOther, choreographed by resident choreographer Robert Dekkers. Like many of his works, it’s a little melancholic, but tinged with hope and joy. Set to Yann Tiersen’s score from the film Amelie played on solo piano, the piece is meant as an exploration of the evolution of relationships. Dekkers hopes to remind us that every moment is precious. Costumes are by company member Christian Squires.

The second half of the show, A Swinging Holiday, was created in 2012 by Sean Kelly, former resident choreographer for the national tour of the musical Billy Elliot and former principal of Houston Ballet. It’s set to jazzy swing tunes from the 30s and 40s, renditions of classic holiday numbers by legends Duke Ellington, Glenn Miller, Nat “King” Cole, and Wynton Marsalis, all performed by the Diablo Ballet Swing Orchestra, under the musical direction of Greg Sudmeier.

Performed last year as a final farewell for retiring audience favorite company member Eddie Steggie, this year Christian Squires took over the part. His performance was warm and endearing but he certainly had big shoes to fill. The variety-type set gave the audience some laughs, as did the whimsical party plot with its humorous moments when Squires unsuccessfully attempted to ask partners to dance, and a “tipsy” performance from Rosselyn Ramirez. The holiday mood was amped up with impressive swing flips and aerials leaving the audience enthusiastically applauding and cheering.

Diablo is swiftly becoming a new holiday tradition.