My friend met the at The Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts on Castro Street in Mountain View where The Smuin Ballet is presenting its Spring Fling XXcentric Spring Dance Series that runs throughout major theatre venues from May 2 to June 7, 2014.
Two world premier works by famed choreographers, Val Caniparoli of The San Francisco Ballet and Amy Seiwert, Choreographer for the Smuin Ballet, were commissioned by Smuin’s artistic director, Celia Fushille to showcase their special new works.
The grand orange mission style theatre stands out among Mountain View’s leafy tree lined streets and seems to welcome us. Both of us are excited about the ballet we are about to see and arrive early enough to share drinks and to chat before the highly anticipated performance.
The dark wood lined cafe offers us an appealing array of hearty meals and exquisite pastries as we order our tea. The many layered dark chocolate cake sends me its siren call. The warm breezy summer night seems to urge us towards the outdoor patio. Near our seating, a provocative contemporary sculpture is set into a splashy fountain and adds to the lovely setting that encourages meaningful conversation. As elaborately dressed excitedly chattering ballet goers waft their lovely perfumes into the air as they stream past our table and up the stairs to the box office, they create a sort of pre-ballet dance of their own with their crisply focused movements and happily expectant faces.
Michael Smuin, the founder and director of The Smuin Ballet tragically died in 2007. The loss devastated the company, but they resiliently recovered to enable the Smuin company to continue to bring forth his extraordinarily creative energy through the stage presentations of his brilliant works. Famed for integrating classical ballet and modern dance forms, Smuin created a new dance.
Physicist Richard Feynman wrote “Deep in the sea all molecules repeat the patterns of one another till complex new ones are formed. They make others like themselves and a new dance starts”. Smuin truly left a great legacy to the dance world in the “new dance” he created. "Dancin' with Gershwin", featured in the current Smuin XXcentirc SpringDance Series, is an example of an extravaganza that shows his imaginative genius through the most creative forms of great artistic expression.
The work opens with a magnificent display of the broadway and film billboards, sheet music and posters of the productions featuring Gershwin’s music. The powerfully portrayed images evoke the feel of a by gone more romantic era, and emotionally sets the stage for the grand musical shows of the 1920’s and 30’s until his death in 1937. His songs, “S’wonderful”, “Do It Again”, “The Man I Love”, “Summertime” and others when danced by the Smuin company to the music of Marilyn Monroe, Carmen McRae, Sting, and Michael Feinstein are astonishingly magnificent.
Smuin weaves its special magic with fabulous strokes of red and white colors into the fabrics of the costumes in the varied sets in the Gerswin offering. Smuin does this with special verve, not only in the current Spring XXcentric Spring Dance Series, , but also in their most charming, “Dear Miss Cline” that was choreographed by Seiwert and featured in their recent Xxtremes Winter Series wherein they also showcase delightful red and white costumes in masterful expression in dance of the country songs of Patsy Cline and used these to accurately portray the 1950’s landscape.
Creativity continues to run high throughout “Dancin with Gershwin”. Fabulous different sets danced to Gershwin’s songs astonish. A male tap dancer charmingly and masterfully clicks across the stage thrilling the audience, a solo dancer in her cute red and white shorts outfit enchants while steamy duets and other dancers cause the audience to erupt in cheers and wild applause again and again.
To the “Do it Again”, a Marilyn Monroe styled songstress outfitted in blonde curly wig and gorgeous red gown is the epitome of glamorous high production numbers of the time. She is supported by formally dressed male fan dancers with enormous white feathers against a background of a starry night sky. Since the great musical dance production numbers of Broadway and films of the Gershwin era have mostly gone by the wayside, it is a great gift to have the Smuin Ballet return it for a special and memorable evening.
Choreographer Val Caniparoli presented his premier work, Tutto Eccetto Il Lavandino (everything but the kitchen sink) in celebration of Smuin’s twentieth anniversary. The dancers costumed in varying shades of green, immediately bring the audience deeply into the realms of nature just as Vivaldi does in The Four Seasons. The perfect connection between the music and the dancer’s movements are most impressive.
In this work, music and dance together convey nature’s power through alternating cycles of strong powerful discordant movements and flowing rhythmic motions that communicate natural events such as the breaking of deeply frozen ice of winter, violent storms, and the gentle graceful emergence of new spring flowers. A most beautiful work on the surface, a deeper look holds important understanding of the oneness between ourselves, nature and all things.
When Vivaldi introduced The Four Seasons, it was considered a revolutionary work because the composer included sounds of nature that range from mosquito’s buzzing to silent nights. Caniparoli’s piece too is revolutionary as he integrates seemingly disparate forms to create a powerful work of art that mirrors systemic processes as they move between chaos to order. A most delightfully amusing and witty finale to the work is the sudden appearance on stage of the titled “kitchen sink” that surprises and delights the audience.
"Smuin Choreographer Amy Seiwert has another hit under hat with her highly innovative world premiere "Now I must rest". Drawing her inspiration from the exotic music of Cesaria Evora, Seiwert, she uses sultry steamy movements for dancers in hotly colored deep reds and magenta costumes against a warm golden background. This phenomenal piece stirs warmth in the viewer’s soul. In line during intermission, I overheard one ballet goer ask another regarding the Seiwert’s piece, “So was it Inca’s or Aztecs?” Her companion replied, it can be any southerly place you want it to be!”. A good summary of the work is for it successfully transports one through an invisible window to a far away lush and exotic land where the love and romance for which one longs abounds.
The raves for the Smuin Ballet Company will reverberate across time and space, just as its ballet evokes the past, and the creativity and artistry of its dances are presented well into the future.
The Smuin Ballet’s XXcentric Spring Dance Series will be offered in Carmel at the Sunset Center on June 6-7.
For more information about future performance go to the Smuin Ballet Company website.
Photos: Courtesy of Smuin Ballet Company
Bette Kiernan, MFT
Psychotherapist in Private Practice
Palo Alto, CA