Restaging The Christmas Ballet: Q&A with Amy London

How are The Christmas Ballet pieces restaged every year? We sat down with Ballet Master Amy London to learn more about what goes into recreating this complex show each year with a new cast.

Q: How do the new company members learn the whole show in just a few weeks?

Amy London: Learning The Christmas Ballet the first time is often overwhelming for new dancers! Since there are only 16 dancers in the company, the show is much more involved than a production like The Nutcracker. Each dancer will perform around 12 of the pieces at any given show, but they need to learn all of them just in case! The veteran dancers often help the rookies with all of the choreography–there is great community spirit in the rehearsal studio. We love to connect the new dancers to the company tradition. Sometimes a member of the original company will visit the studio, and they pass down stories and magical moments from their history with the company. But by the end of The Christmas Ballet’s run, every dancer is a Smuin veteran with their own stories to tell.

Q: How are the pieces passed on from one year to the next?

Amy London: Ballet choreography is traditionally passed down from older dancers to younger dancers. Before video or complex notation, dancers taught the choreography to one another. For The Christmas Ballet, both

[Artistic Director] Celia Fushille and I have danced most of the roles that Michael Smuin originally choreographed. We have a sense of Michael’s priorities and try to pass those along to the dancers. Michael also left some notes in The Christmas Ballet score for the original dances that we will use.

Q: Do you use a lot of video recordings to remember choreographic details?

Amy London: I spend hours and hours every year watching videos from each time the show was performed. Often the choreography has adapted since its creation; sometimes to improve upon itself, and other times to adapt to the skills of the dancer. After I watch all of the videos, I compile the “best of” each performance to use for this year. I also have detailed notes from my last eight years working with Smuin, including elements of musical emphasis, body shapes, and partnering.

Q: How do you recreate pieces designed by other choreographers?

Amy London: Often we will bring in the original choreographer to coach the company dancers on the piece. This year, we’ve brought in Jane Rehm for Here We Come A Wassailing, her 2012 composition, as well as Val Caniparoli for Jingle Bells Mambo, his 2008 high-energy work for three men. Resident Choreographer Amy Seiwert also coaches the dancers–she has six pieces in this year’s Christmas Ballet, including one world premiere.

Q: How do the dancers learn all of the complicated costume and prop changes?

Amy London: The most difficult part of restaging The Christmas Ballet each year is fitting the pieces together into a complete whole. It’s important to give the audience a cohesive performance experience while keeping the dancers’ workload balanced from show to show. The logistics take a lot of thought! We create a complex matrix with all of the details–but of course, it changes all the time. A week before the show opens, we transition from rehearsing individual pieces to running the whole show. We try to practice with the props in the studio as much as possible, but it’s always bedlam during the first run in the theatre! Each dancer makes a list for each show so they can set up their props and costume changes beforehand. Can’t miss that next entrance!

The Christmas Ballet continues its magic in venues throughout the Bay Area beginning November 20 – December 27. Click here for more information about tickets!

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