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Smuin Ballet

‘Schubert Scherzo’, ‘Romeo and Juliet Balcony pdd’, ‘Falling Up’, ‘Carmina Burana’

May 2007
San Francisco, Yerba Buena Theater

by Renee Renouf



© Tom Hauck

'Schubert Scherzo' reviews

Smuin 'Carmina Burana' reviews

'Carmina Burana' reviews

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Smuin Ballet opened May 11 at the Yerba Buena Theater minus its namesake; a visual tribute followed President Patti Hume’s comments as she stood on the stage flanked by Celia Fushille-Burke, now artistic director and Dwight Hutton, executive director. The various images of Michael, alone or with dancers, reminded us what a brimming-with-life figure he was. I didn’t know what to expect, not having seen the troupe since watching their Christmas numbers easily five or six years ago. Then the ballet-ballet seen was Smuin’s Les Noches, heavy on sexual implications of the Russian peasant wedding to slick costuming by Willa Kim.

Michael picked sunny-souled people for his ensemble, desiring to please, possessing clean technique and ability to meet unexpected demands. He also chose with an eye to personality. Three studied at San Francisco Ballet seen from annual student concerts: Courtney Hellebuyck, Aaron Thayer, Kevin Yee-Chan. Ikolo Griffin, SF schooled and formerly SF Ballet member, has returned to San Francisco after stints as principal with Dance Theatre of Harlem and the Joffrey Ballet. Robin Cornwall and Olivia Ramsay were trained at Marin Ballet. Erin Yarborough and Ethan White migrated from Oakland Ballet, David Strobbe and James Strong from Ballet San Jose. The ensemble is worth watching; technique shows little sign of faltering. With company class teachers like Joanna Berman, Pascale LeRoy, Viktor Kabaniaev, Ricardo Bustamonte, Yuri Zhukov and Andre Reyes, the performance level promises to continue.

The first half of the program featured a Smuin premiere, Schubert Scherzo, followed by his Romeo and Juliet Balcony pas de deux, and the premiere of company dancer Amy Seiwart’s Falling Up to Johannes Brahms, Donald White at the piano. Carmina Burana closed the program.

In white with Vanessa Thiessen and James Mills as lead couple, ten women in simple white tunics, the men in teeshirts and trousers were each given opportunity to display technique any company would consider acceptable. Framed with simple white curtains, the ten looked well- rehearsed with the San Francisco ballet contingent, Griffin, Hellebuyck and Yee-Chan projecting the most joi de vivre and assurance. Smuin’s ability with combinations was facile, with one or two unexpected touches. The theater space is difficult for the adequate display of abstract classicism.

The Romeo and Juliet pas de deux was a refreshing remembrance of the era of some of Smuin’s best choreography; the lifts, runs and relationship convey an American take on the two Verona adolescents. Juliet runs toward Romeo in giddy excitement, but also displays some adolescent quandries. Romeo, more star struck, has seconds of the innocent animal desire to be cuddled. Erin Yarborough and Aaron Thayer conveyed the qualities well. I remember Fonteyn’s punctuating the role with stillness in her pauses; Yarborough pauses gather momentum for the next phrase, rather then conveying movement-stopping passion.

Donald White’s rendition of Johannes Brahms solo piano pieces provided good support for Amy Seiwart’s pas de huit, which again provided the dancers distinctive display. No explanation for Falling Up as a title, but a dedication to Michael Smuin. Seiwart has distinctive movements, few repeated, perhaps due to the music. I'd like to see it again.
 


Michael Smuin's Carmina Burana
© Tom Hauck


The Smuin Carmina Burana dates from 1997, commencing in semi-darkness, picking out young women in Sandra Woodall’s burgundy-hued halter unitards, a slash of white satin at the hips, in the four stage corners with the center masked in shadow as if enveloped by a woman’s mourning veil. Sara Linnie Slocum’s striking lighting design lifts to reveal a girl, legs jacknifed,resting on the feet of men with their backs on the floor; a Venus figure on the half shell. Lowered to the floor, there follows a symbolic sexual union, witnessed and facilitated by the other men. The women preen and stab with their pointes; the center female dances a provocative solo with one hand resting on her inner thigh, knee bent, foot in point, repeated several times. One male dances a solo with changes of hands and feet with echoes of Irish step dancing. There is a pas de trois, a pas de six, before two striking numbers, first with Ikolo Griffin as an outsider later mauled by four men, then with Amy Seiwert manipulated on two poles, being roasted or enduring an Inquisition; The central Venus figure tries to make it with the men of four couples. A man comes to her rescue. The company dances again and the lights begin to close into the center reversing the opening of O Fortuna, the women adding to the petal formation as the Venus figure is lifted aloft at curtain.

Smuin’s choreography highlighted Robin Cornwall in the central role, supported by Aaron Thayer and Shannon Hulburt made the most of shifting Irish-touched male solo. The company danced the audience-pleasing numbers with affection and conviction; the ensemble is worthy of a second look. Sara Linnie Slocum's lighting is particularly exciting.


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