Monday, May 18, 2015


Smuin Ballet presents
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco
May 16th, 2015

Smuin Ballet just completed the first leg of a Bay Area tour. To close their twenty-first anniversary season, the company is pleased to present Unlaced, a hearty quadruple bill. Featuring a recent returning favorite by Helen Pickett, two classic Michael Smuin pas de deuxs and a new work by Adam Hougland, the program once again distinguishes this dynamic company as a necessary destination for lovers of both classical and contemporary dance.

The curtain rose on Helen Pickett’s Petal (originally choreographed in 2008 and performed by Santa Fe Ballet) to reveal a striking, bright yellow stage. This exciting opening statement immediately awakens the senses. Pickett’s choreography calls for a parallel vibrancy with its constant shifts; demanding seamless pivots between modern and traditional technique. As the light design (originally by Todd Elmer, adapted by Michael Oesch) turned a pinky-orange, Erin Yarbrough and Jonathan Powell danced a knowing duet of steadfastness and clarity. Nicole Haskins and Weston Krukow swept the audience away with their pas de deux, particularly Krukow’s turns in second attitude and Haskins’ brave, blind jump into his arms. While the ballet was full of these and other noteworthy moments, this particular performance did feel a little contained. When Smuin premiered Petal two years ago, there was an on-the-edge excitement and palpable intensity that was missing this time.

Act II of Unlaced brought two contrasting pas de deuxs by Michael Smuin, the balcony scene from his Romeo and Juliet and an excerpt from Hearts Suite, both of which had their
Pictured: Erin Yarbrough and Jonathan Powell in
the balcony pas de deux from
Michael Smuin's Romeo and Juliet
Photo: Chris Hardy
Smuin Ballet premiere in 1994. Romeo and Juliet, danced by Yarbrough and Powell, was an absolute delight. Smuin injected this famous scene with a subtleness that made you remember an important aspect of the story. Yes, the two main characters are desperately in love, but their experience is brand new, having just met one another. Such a complex narrative calls for both sides – the careful delicacy of newness combined with grand abandon of passion. The choreography delivered, one hundred per cent. And Yarbrough and Powell were absolutely incandescent. The second pas de deux, from Hearts Suite, was Smuin’s take on a very unique love story; one from a different time, a different place. In this character-driven, narrative duet, Garance, danced exquisitely by Susan Roemer, is trapped in challenging life circumstances and is caught off-guard by the love and affection of Baptiste (another fantastic portrayal by Ben Needham-Wood). Unfulfilled expectations, unexpected love and an atypical match; the excerpt leaves you wondering how the story will unfold.

Unlaced closed with Adam Hougland’s newest composition, Ask Me, an ensemble dance for five women and five men. The lights went up, and club culture took over. The company looked like a diverse set of 1980s characters, with a little helping of 1990s grunge and just a pinch of modern day hipster. A sense of community and camaraderie was immediately established in the first unison group sequence, and carried through to the end of the ballet. A collection of smaller scenes (solos, duets, quintets) followed that initial statement, all with the undercurrent of celebration, of togetherness. Hougland’s Ask Me was part rock video, part edgy artistic installation that ended with a lovely, introspective solo, danced by Robert Kretz. Ask Me was cool and edgy, but the ending was so abrupt. I can’t help wondering if at some point, there was something more, something after that final solo that ended up getting cut at the last minute.

No comments: