Saturday, February 05, 2011

Smuin Ballet - Winter Program

Smuin Ballet dancers Benjamin Behrends,
Travis Walker, and Shane Tice in "Brahms-Haydn Variations"
Photo credit: David Allen

Lesher Center for the Arts, Walnut Creek, CA
February 4, 2011

Smuin Ballet's 2011 winter program could have easily been titled 'An Evening of Conceptual Dance', with Trey McIntyre's "Oh, Inverted World" sandwiched between Michael Smuin's "Brahms-Haydn Variations" and "Bluegrass/Slyde".  A brilliantly orchestrated mixed repertoire night, the three works were committed to the exploration of traditional and contemporary movement and were all excellent examples of non-narrative ballet founded on concept.

The first piece, "Brahms-Haydn Variations" was maybe the closest thing to neo-classical abstraction that I have seen in a long time;  Michael Smuin created beautiful intricate movement to transcendent music.  Yet, it cannot be considered purely abstract because the music provided the conceptual basis for the choreography.  Smuin's inventory of ballet was complete, including the use of 2nd position in pliĆ©, on pointe and in the air, which, with the exception of Balanchine, is rarely found in staged choreography.  The duo of Jean Michelle Sayeg and Ben Behrends deserves special acknowledgement for the outstandingly buoyant lifts in the finale.  Theirs was truly a combined effort; working together as a team. 

Trey McIntyre's "Oh, Inverted World" still celebrated the ballet syllabus, but turned everything that could be expected from that tradition upside down.  Although no one except McIntyre himself can really be sure of what he was trying to say with this work, it seemed that his conceptual basis was the idea of athleticism and dance.  Here were the athletic possibilities; a complete study of physicality.  So many choreographers today attempt to examine the depths of human movement by taking dancing out of the equation and deconstructing movement to a mere skeleton of its former self.  But McIntyre shows that subtracting and taking away is not the only method with which to explore the complexity of choreography - "Oh, Inverted World" was rich unexpected dance to dynamic unexpected music. 

Smuin's "Bluegrass/Slyde" rounded out the evening with a fun conceptual foundation of line dancing, jazz, social dance, tap and musical theater.  The set was a collection of scaffolding and three rotating poles that were abundantly utilized throughout the eight-section dance.  I must confess that the inclusion of these poles made the piece look a little gimmicky.  There were moments where the poles assisted in creating some interesting images (when the men jumped high onto them and spun effortlessly in a standing parallel position) but for the most part, these few instances were not enough to make the set worth it.  The tap section was inventive, though the paddle, roll, shuffle sequence not in sync, but again the use of the poles for extra percussion was unnecessary.  The final romantic pas de deux between Erin Yarbrough-Stewart and Travis Walker reinforced that Smuin's choreography is good enough to stand on its own.

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