Smuin Balllet Review – A New Experience

During most of the year I can be found in and around Chicago where, I am happy to report, dance is alive and well.  There  I can enjoy various dance companies such as the Joffrey Ballet Chicago, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, and Thodos Dance Chicago among other companies.  I have been fortunate in spending some of the winter months in Palo Alto for last two years.  Last year my granddaughter who lives in the Bay Area and who has an extensive dance background accompanied me to the War Memorial Auditorium which is elegant and historic where we saw a performance by the San Francisco Ballet.  We both enjoyed it very much. This year, I had the good fortune of seeing the Smuin Ballet in Mountain View.  Although this is my granddaughter’s favorite company she was unable to accompany me and abandoned me to my friends.

Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts (Google images)


What a difference!  Not only was there an amazing different between the companies’ but the venues were also striking in their contrast.  Very different than the larger, well-established San Francisco Ballet, the ballet company that Michael Smuin started is relatively new, small, precise, technically skilled and bursting with energy.  I think anyone who attended this recent performance must have gone home energized not only by what they saw and listened to but also by the sheer energy that was palpable.

Brahms-Haydn Variations


Michael Smuin, who began as a dancer with San Francisco Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and on Broadway, was also a Tony and Emmy Award-winning choreographer.  His company was formed in 1994 as a vehicle to showcase Smuin’s creative versatility and even after his sudden death in 2007, his works continue to dazzle and entertain audiences.  I was certainly “dazzled” and captivated by Smuin Ballet. Fortunately, this talented company has continued to function and gain strength under the leadership of Celia Fushille.

At the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, the Winter Program included: Brahms-Haydn Variatons, Oh, Inverted World and Bluegrass/Slyde.  I thought the venue was perfect for the size of the company.  I found this relatively new and modern auditorium warm and inviting with great sight lines where I could almost feel a part of the action.

Classical Brahms-Haydn Variations


The evening's program was extremely varied. Brahms-Haydn Variations opened the program. (Premiered at San Francisco Ballet March 22, 1985, it was first performed by Smuin Ballet in Miami on October 11, 1996.)  It was classical ballet with just a bit of modern variation.  The bare stage was the perfect background to the dancers in their costumes were traditional and in keeping with the classical music.  I favored the women’s filmy airy dresses, which extended the feeling of the luscious choreography by Michael Smuin

Oh, Inverted World Benjamin Behrends, Jane Rehm(front)


Choreographer Trey McIntyre’s Oh, Inverted World  (World premier: October 1, 2010 Smuin Ballet, Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco) was the second number and a blockbuster.  McIntyre is one of the most sought-after choreographers working today. He has created a canon of more than 80 works for companies the include Stuttgart Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, (my own) Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, New York City Ballet, Ballet de Santiago (Chile) and has served as Resident Choreographer for Oregon Ballet Theatre, Ballet Memphis, and The Washington Ballet. 

Oh, Inverted World, Benjamin Behrends, Erin Yarbrough Stewart, Matthew Linzer


As this number opened, my friend and I were very surprised that those dancers who were clothed in the previous number appeared in beach attire looking very athletic and “unballetic”.  It was really difficult to match these bodies to those who danced the previous number.  Set to the music of The Shins, with costume design by Sandra Woodall and construction by Birgit Pfeffer.  Lighting by Michael Oesch emphasized shadows that created a “larger than life” look on the undecorated wall behind.  I was struck with the thought that not only do these dancers need to have perfect technique and be able to move from classical dance all the way to rock and bluegrass but they also need to be able to look great and move comfortably dressed way down.  And, of course, the troupe did all that in spades. I found the way, in which movement perfectly reflected music, to be a satisfying experience.  Smuin ballerina, Jane Rehm, said,  “While some people can really relate to classical music, others can’t.  So it’s good to find ways for those other audience members to be readily reached.”  What I found interesting was that my friends and I who do relate to classical music also found that we were very moved by this number.  And in this piece, the men were absolutely outstanding.

Amazing moves in Oh,Inverted World



Oh, Inverted World, Erin Yarbrough Stewart, Benjamin Behrends


Wanting to see the program go on and on, I hated to see the end nearing with the final piece Bluegrass/Slyde, choreographed by Michael Smuin (World Premier: September 30, 2005 Smuin Ballet, Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco) to music by Edgar Meyer & Bela Fleck and costumes by Jo Ellen Arntz.   Pole design and construction by James Beaumont was, to me, astounding.  How, I wondered, in the space of a short intermission could a structure be placed across the stage with poles stable enough to support all kinds of “abuse”, twirling, swinging, climbing, and tapping.  Clearly, I was very impressed.  Another thing that puzzled me was the speed at which shoes were changed from pointe to ballet shoes, to tap shoes to boots.  Over all, this number was slightly more balletic and lyrical than the previous piece but it was so different than anything I had ever seen.  At times sheer energy, at times romantic, it was exciting and beautiful and the three poles formed its center. Adhering to basic ballet principles and movement through all its gyrations, Smuin Ballet is memorable and I will file this wonderful performance in memory.  Do see it and you will, too.

Bluegrass/Slyde


Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts
Corner of Castro & Mercy Streets, Mountain View
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Feb 25 at 8:00 p.m.
Feb 26 at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.
Feb 27 at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.
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For single tickets ($49 - $62), the public can call the Mountain View Center for the
Performing Arts at (650) 903-6000. Discounts are available for seniors, students, and groups of 10 or more. For information, the public may call (415) 556-5000 or visit www.smuinballet.org.
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Photo credit: David Allen
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Watch for Smuin Ballet's dynamic spring program which will include the world premiere of Requiem by Choreographer in Residence Amy Seiwert set to Mozart's "Requiem".  Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (San Franciso), May 6-15, 2011.......Lesher Center for the Arts (Walnut Creek) May 20-21, 2011.......Bayside Performing Arts Center (San Mateo) May 25-29, 2011........Sunset Center (Carmel) June 3-4, 2011






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