A Christmas Carol  has Tiny Tim. Miracle on 34th St. has Santa. The Nutcracker has its prince. If any character were to exemplify Smuin’s The Christmas Ballet, it would be Santa Baby. Debuting during the very first performance of The Christmas Ballet in 1995, Santa Baby was initially choreographed by Michael Smuin on the company’s current artistic director, Celia Fushille, and has since become one of Smuin’s most iconic works.

       No one could have anticipated the piece’s overwhelmingly positive reception during its first performance, least of all Fushille. After months of work setting each original piece in the studio, Santa Baby was ready to take her first walk across the Yerba Buena stage. “I’ll never forget that first performance when I walked out on the stage,” Fushille reminisces. “I had that audience wrapped around my finger. It just hadn’t occurred to me that that was going to happen! They were just cracking up right through the whole thing. And, of course, now it’s become a tradition.”

       From the 42-foot long boa (in actuality seven 6-foot boas sewn together), to the doting admirers and extravagant gifts, the props used in this piece add a dash of humor to this Christmas favorite. Before creating the choreography, Smuin carefully studied the lyrics of the Eartha Kitt classic, and chose to craft the dance around the song’s narrative well before determining the actual steps. As Fushille recalls, from the very beginning “everything was set, it was choreographed with the props: the duplex, the checks, the deed, the sable. And then the guys in their raincoats as backup.”

       While Santa Baby is one of the few pieces that have been consistently performed since its inception, there have been some changes to the work itself over the years. The props have been repaired and reconstructed several times over. “They get battered throughout the shows, they’re getting tossed off stage” in the dark, Fushille concedes. “[Michael] did try a red mylar curtain one year as a backdrop, and it was just an awful lot of red! One year he also tried to add in a couple of magic tricks, and they just did not work,” Fushille admits. “The original version was always the strongest.” Additionally, in 2006, the female soloist’s costume was replaced; the original was later sold at a silent auction, along with the shoes Fushille wore for all 12 years of performing Santa Baby.

     

       Following the announcement of her retirement in 2005, Fushille’s final performances of Santa Baby in The Christmas Ballet were met with constant applause, before even stepping out on the stage. “It was so humbling,” she recollects. “It was really endearing that so many people had come to love it.” The piece itself remains dear to her heart: “Santa Baby was always a really fun part.” As she passes the proverbial torch to new dancers performing the role, she acknowledges that they each have their own take on how Santa Baby is performed, but her ultimate goal is to preserve Smuin’s original intentions for the work. She notes that the subtleties in the piece, like the initial walk with the boa, are some of the more difficult things to master. The sentiment behind the character itself is also a bit elusive. There’s an element of innocence about the character; “in many ways, she’s oblivious” to what is going on around her. Fushille originally drew inspiration the film stars of the 1930’s and 40’s, carefully treading the fine line between blatant coquette and ingenue.

       Even in its 22nd edition, The Christmas Ballet holds a tremendous amount of sentiment for Fushille. When Smuin’s signature holiday work premiered, the response was amazing, with all 13 shows sold out, quickly becoming the company’s most popular offering. “People were ready for this changejust something fun for the holidays.” Fushille recalls.

        “So many people would say ‘This is our tradition. This is going to be our new tradition.’ When I still hear that in the theater today [with some] seeing it for the first time 20-plus years later, it’s so lovely. It’s a gift that we get to give people for the holidays.”

Come catch Santa Baby and all the other treats The Christmas Ballet has to offer— buy your tickets here!