Monday, October 05, 2015

Dance Series One

Smuin Ballet
Dance Series One
Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco
October 3rd, 2015

A mixed repertory night with multiple choreographic visions – one might expect such an evening to be varied and diverse. It’s amazing how often that is not the case. Companies can settle into a style, a signature, a manner, and despite differing choreography, things end up looking much the same.

But then there are mixed repertory programs that succeed in celebrating and embodying choreographic breadth and diversity. Those where every moment is a delightful surprise. Smuin Ballet’s Dance Series One is a prime example. A quartet of work ranging from 1981 to present day, every piece brought something new to the table, expertly communicated by the company’s dedicated dance artists. Dance Series One is about creativity, risk and gusto; bravi to the entire creative team.

The curtain rose to reveal three couples in spotlights amidst a smoke-filled stage, Ma Cong’s French Twist. It felt like the opening credits to a mystery, perfect for an October ballet. Quickly the dance progressed into stylized movement – the kind that transcends the categories of ‘classical’ or ‘contemporary’. Specificity and articulation reigned in the arms, feet, legs, hands, head and torso, like petit allegro was happening in the entire body. Or sometimes, even a hint of puppetry or marionette-styled vocabulary crept in. While French Twist had different sections, there was a continuous feeling to it, devoid of stops and starts. With one exception (the men’s costuming), it was a great start to the night.

Next up was Michael Smuin’s Bouquet, a beautifully graceful yet technically challenging two-part composition. The dance begins with a quartet for one woman and three men (at this performance, Erin Yarbrough-Powell, Mengjun Chen, Dustin James and Jonathan Powell) and it has some truly enchanting moments. A favorite is when Yarbrough-Powell was suspended high in the air with her leg in a low arabesque. Some of the unison turns did prove tricky, and while this particular chapter has an elegant classical feel, it does look a little dated. Danced by Susan Roemer and Robert Moore, Bouquet’s pas de deux didn’t look dated at all; in fact, it stood out. Not just in this ballet, but in the entire night. Touching and romantic, passionate and surprising, Roemer’s metatarsals barely grazed the floor in a series of scooting arabesque lifts. With devotion, Moore tenderly grasped Roemer’s foot and ankle while she extended in penchée. They looked amazing together.

Choreographed by company dancer Ben Needham-Wood, Maslow was one of the two new works on the program. A ballet for a lead pair and a quintet, Maslow contemplated perception and reality through the eyes of a title character, danced and interpreted by
Pictured: Robert Kretz (center) and Terez Dean (back right)
and the Smuin Company in Maslow 
Photo credit: Chris Hardy
Robert Kretz. Little knowledge of the individual who inspired Maslow made the story (if there was a narrative through line) a little difficult to discern. Having said that, Needham-Wood’s scene and setting was very clear – this was the mind of a great thinker, someone fascinated with imagination and the human psyche. The best part of Maslow was the choreography itself, a combination of ballet and contemporary jazz, all underscored with a rare fluidity, almost a liquidness. And in the primary role, Kretz was absolutely astounding.

Choreographer-in-Residence Amy Seiwert closed Dance Series One with her new ballet, Broken Open, the only piece on the program to feature the entire company. This six-part composition pushed boundaries as only Seiwert can do, asking what ballet is, what it looks like, what vocabulary it entails and what it can be. As suggested by the title, Broken Open, ‘broke open’ perceptions and expectations from start to finish. Grand pliés in parallel sixth position, flexed feet in promenades, demi-pointe work in pointe shoes and an abundance of second position (in lifts, in turns and in poses). With a pattern of psychedelic paint splatters, Sandra Woodall’s costumes evoked an earlier time, perhaps the 1970s/early 1980s. I really liked the costumes, though their retro style mixed with the forward intention in the choreography was a little puzzling.

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