Inclusive, merry times with SF Symphony and Smuin Christmas ballet

This December, everyone is likely seeking some holiday cheer and festive entertainment — perhaps something beyond white elephant gift exchanges, end-of-year work parties and family gatherings.

The San Francisco Symphony and San Francisco’s Smuin Contemporary Ballet have answered that call for alternative, fun holiday events that both maintain tradition and welcomingly break away from it. The shows — “Holiday Gaiety” on Friday and “The Christmas Ballet LGBTQ+ Night” on Tuesday — highlight the diversity and artistic prowess of the LGBTQ+ community via an array of performers and performances. 

Conductor, co-emcee and co-creator of SF Symphony’s “Holiday Gaiety” Edwin Outwater describes the event as a variety show similar to the Andy Williams and Judy Garland shows of the 1960s.

He explains, “There’s a living room scene onstage and people can ring the doorbell and come in. And Peaches [Christ] and I are the hosts and then our friends drop by … It can range from comedy to something totally crazy to incredible vocals. So it’s very much modeled in that style of a traditional TV Christmas variety show.”

Outwater sought to develop a thoughtful, funny and surprise-filled show with co-creator and co-emcee Peaches Christ. In its fourth year, this year’s “Holiday Gaiety” features drag performers Thorgy Thor and Miss Coco Peru, mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton, vocalists Alex Newell and Jimmie Herrod, dance troupe Fou Fou Ha and, of course, the San Francisco Symphony.

In addressing the significance of “Holiday Gaiety” and its highlighting of the LGBTQ+ community, conductor Edwin Outwater says, “For many LGBTQ+ people, we’ve got our own logical family.” Outwater co-created the variety show — full of comedy, surprises and songs — with Joshua Grannell, aka drag queen Peaches Christ. (Photo courtesy JP Lor)

Says Outwater, “Just writing the show and planning it and then seeing the audience finally react to it after all that goes into it is just completely a blast for me. And I think what’s so great about it is that because the format is so open, people have no idea what’s coming, so we try to keep them on their toes — big time.”

In addition to the intended focus on the LGBTQ+ community, Outwater notes that “Holiday Gaiety” fills a gap in Christmas event offerings because of its appeal to adults. As he says, “There are plenty of adults who want to go out and have a night without the kids and have some cocktails and just be ridiculous and celebrate Christmas in that way.”

Smuin’s “The Christmas Ballet LGBTQ+ Night” is similarly appealing, albeit more dance-oriented, pointe shoes included. Held at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, it will celebrate its second year running, with Lady Camden — the alter ego of former Smuin dancer Rex Wheeler — as the special guest performer.

Says Wheeler, “There’s so much that goes into this, and it’s only one night … which makes it precious. I look forward to all of the friends I know are coming and being back on the ballet stage.”

Lady Camden’s star role includes two numbers during the second half of the show — one of them is a performance corresponding with Eartha Kitt’s “Santa Baby” and another is a piece Wheeler choreographed featuring other Smuin dancers. Lady Camden will also make cameo appearances throughout the event.

“The Christmas Ballet” also goes “outside of the binary box” in terms of dancers and traditional roles and pairings. Says Wheeler, “I think it’s beautiful to watch how dancers can be not-so-gender-specific. … It’s a way to demonstrate that it really doesn’t matter who you love. It’s really just about bringing people together and having that Christmas joy.”

Of the gender-nonconforming performances in Smuin’s “The Christmas Ballet,” Rex Wheeler says, “I think in a city like San Francisco, it’s how things are moving forward in the dance world, and I think they should be moving forward in that direction — less about gender and more about partnership itself.” (Photo courtesy Chris Hardy)

Wheeler recognizes the importance of a ballet like this in San Francisco — a city that has long been at the forefront of LGBTQ+ creativity, equality and rights — and of the ongoing significance of inclusivity.

As Wheeler explains, “My goal in making this ballet is to make sure that it’s done in a way that is a real celebration of who we are as people. It’s an example of how it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from: Dance is for everyone to enjoy.”

Queer, gender-nonconforming, inventive and entertaining, “Holiday Gaiety” and “The Christmas Ballet” have much to offer this holiday season, as joyful experiences for performers and audiences alike.

‘Holiday Gaiety

The San Francisco Symphony’s one-night-only “Holiday Gaiety” takes place at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco. For tickets, $25-$150, and more information, visit

The Christmas Ballet LGBTQ+ Night

Smuin Contemporary Ballet’s “The Christmas Ballet LGBTQ+ Night” takes place at 7:30 Tuesday at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 700 Howard St., San Francisco. For tickets, $36-$99, and more information, visit

Every ticket purchased includes a donation to Project Open Hand, an organization that provides meals to individuals with HIV/AIDS and other critical health conditions in San Francisco and Oakland. 

Lady Camden’s afterparty, “LGBTQ Post-Show Reception,” starts at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday at YBCA’s 2nd Floor Terrace Lobby. Tickets, $30, are available at

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