Saturday, May 03, 2014

Smuin Ballet

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco
May 2nd, 2014

Smuin Ballet kicked off the final chapter of its twentieth anniversary season with their “XXcentric” program. For this Spring Dance Series, world premieres by Val Caniparoli and Amy Seiwert (“Tutto Eccetto il Lavandino” and “But now I must rest”, respectively) shared the stage with an invariable crowd-pleaser, Michael Smuin’s 2001 work, “Dancin’ with Gershwin”.

Val Caniparoli’s “Tutto Eccetto il Lavandino”, which translates to ‘everything but the kitchen sink’, certainly lived up to its title. Over eleven individual sections, the choreography morphed between classical ballet, contemporary movement, humorous theatricality, stylized gestures and pedestrian sequences. While the work certainly spoke of all these different dance types, “Tutto Eccetto il Lavandino” is still at its core, a neo-classical work. But Caniparoli’s is a new, dynamic brand of this choreographic genre; a more modern and current take on neo-classicism. One of neo-classicism’s trademarks is how the choreography emphasizes the score. Vivaldi’s musical compositions were well reflected in the movement,
Smuin Ballet in Caniparoli's "Tutto Eccetto il Lavandino"
Photo: Chris Hardy
though Caniparoli took things a step beyond the typical stressing of chords and staccatos. Not only were particular musical motifs accented throughout, but there was also a sense of the highs and lows of each musical phrase being interpreted on stage. “Tutto Eccetto il Lavandino” included some lovely, yet subtle details: Jane Rehm’s coupé derriere supported pirouette, a crossed fifth position in the air where one foot was pointed and the other flexed. In variation seven, Erin Yarbrough and Aidan DeYoung demonstrated how neo-classical pas de deuxs (which are often filled with unusual and difficult partnering sequences) can look effortless. The key is having a sense of the ‘in between’, and to that end, mastering the transitions. Assignment accomplished.     

With every new work, choreographer-in-residence Amy Seiwert is exploring ballet’s identity in the twenty-first century, and how it converses with the larger dance world. “But now I must rest” took ballet and exported it into a grounded, passionate, tribal environment. An ensemble work for ten dancers, there was a constant sense of energy radiating out from deep within the body, extending far beyond the fingers and toes. As the cast cycled through this incredibly tactile work, electricity transferred between them, fueling their movements. This constant energy flow was present in the various featured vignettes, as well as in the piece overall. “But now I must rest” was comprised of a number of different parts, but there was no feeling of start and stop to it. Instead, the ballet was an uninterrupted stream of raw physical consciousness. 

Closing the evening was Michael Smuin’s “Dancin’ with Gershwin”, a revue-style celebration of dance. As nine well-known Gershwin selections sang through the theater, different movement styles were highlighted. From flowy classical ballet to chorus girl vaudeville to old-school performance tap to comic follies to lyrical modern, every number was right on point. Guest performer Shannon Hurlburt’s percussive tap solo to ‘The Rhythm Medley’ stole the show with its intricate combination of five-, six- (and even the elusive) seven-beat riffs, double pull-backs and riffles. “Dancin’ with Gershwin” is an essay of sophisticated glamour, cheeky charm and debonair charisma. And the audience loved it.

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