Sunday, May 19, 2013

Smuin Ballet

“Spring Bouquet”
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco
May 17th, 2013

For the final program of its nineteenth season, Smuin Ballet presented a lovely mixed repertory evening: Michael Smuin’s “Chants D’Auvergne” (1999), Helen Pickett’s “Petal” (2008) and Darrell Grand Moultrie’s “Jazzin’” (2012). A diverse set of offerings, the Spring Dance Series revealed a lasting characteristic of this San Francisco troupe: elegance. The current artistic leadership is committed to retaining Michael Smuin’s vision and honoring his legacy yet, at the same time, not becoming stuck in the past. Smuin Ballet is spring boarding into their coming twentieth anniversary year with strength, technique and of course, a regal elegance.

“Chants D’Auvergne”, choreographed by Smuin to Joseph Canteloube’s score of French folk songs, was a sweet, charming ballet. An ode to civility, couples entered the stage and greeted each other, bowing and curtseying; a dignified sense of community. The choreography reflected Smuin’s lyrical sensibility, though “Chants D’Auvergne” was certainly more classical than many of his other works. Robin Semmelhack was divine – her stage presence drawing the audience in at every moment. While the dance was both graceful and enchanting, it was not without its issues. First and foremost, it is just too long. With the exception of one humorous pas de trois for the men (danced at this performance by Jonathan Powell, Aidan DeYoung and Jonathan Mangosing), the choreography and dynamics are pretty much the same through the whole ballet. Length-wise, it really could have been cut in half. Secondly, it revealed some pretty obvious technical disparities amongst the women of the cast. A couple of the women in this company (Janica Smith, for one) technically outshine some of the others and it’s starting to become noticeable.

A new addition to Smuin’s repertory is Helen Pickett’s 2008 contemporary work, “Petal”. This was far and away the best piece of the evening. Here we saw range, strength and flexibility (something that was missing in “Chants D’Auvergne”) from the entire cast: Erica Chipp, Erica Felsch, Jane Rehm, Erin Yarbrough, Jonathan Dummar, John Speed Orr, Joshua Reynolds
Smuin Ballet dancers Jane Rehm and Jonathan Dummar in the West Coast Premiere 
of “Petal” by Helen Pickett, part of 
"Bouquet," Smuin's 2013 Spring Dance Series
Photo credit: Keith Sutter
and Christian Squires. Squires had a 
fantastic, albeit brief solo about two-thirds of the way through the ballet. He is such an amazing mover, able to immediately adapt to the stylistic demands of any work. But the accolade for performance of the night certainly goes to Jane Rehm. Even though this piece was originally made years ago on another company, Pickett’s choreography looked like it was created on and for Rehm. Her performance was fueled by a deep abandon and technical ferocity that was out of this world. I’ve seen her featured in other works, but it was in this piece that she distinguished herself as a force to be reckoned with. I only wish the women’s costumes had been different; they just weren’t very flattering.

Closing the Spring Program was Darrell Grand Moultrie’s “Jazzin’”. An entertaining, high energy piece, it fused together so many fun and different tastes. The first sequence, appropriately dubbed ‘The Strut’, was reminiscent of Tharp’s “Deuce Coupe” and Robbins’ “West Side Story”. Erica Felsch’s solo (titled ‘Spring in My Step’) was gorgeous. A recent addition to the Smuin roster, Felsch is going to go far. The final full-cast unison variation was absolutely smashing, though it took forever to get to this last brilliant moment. The ensemble finale ramp up was just way too long.

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