Monday, May 09, 2016

Smuin Ballet - Dance Series Two

Smuin Ballet
Dance Series Two
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco
May 8th, 2016

Over the weekend, Smuin Ballet launched a six-week tour of “Dance Series Two”, starting at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. This final offering of the twenty-second season brings another of their diverse mixed repertory programs to stages around the greater Bay Area. And it was also the first that I have seen that didn’t include any choreography by Founder Michael Smuin. “Dance Series Two” paired two returning works - Val Caniparoli’s Tutto Eccetto Il Lavandino (2014) and Jiří Kylián’s Return To A Strange Land  (1975) – with the world premiere of Helen Pickett’s Oasis.

The title says it all with Caniparoli’s Tutto Eccetto Il Lavandino (everything but the kitchen sink), an eleven-part movement suite set to music by Baroque composer Antonio Vivaldi. And I use the term ‘movement suite’ purposely, because Tutto Eccetto Il Lavandino is filled with every type of physicality you could imagine. The curtain rises to a striking initial image – the entire ensemble, at different facings, standing still in 5th position. Elegant phrases with unexpected infusions fill this introductory chapter: ballet, percussive footwork, sprinter-inspired poses. That mixology continued throughout, an array of ingredients in perfect ratios. Erica Felsch, Robert Kretz and Robert Moore’s cannoned rond versé, ending in a deep side lunge; Nicole Haskins’ quick grapevine on pointe; Weston Krukow’s swirling torso; the courtly entrance/exit of couples; the neo-classical partnering by Krukow and Erin Yarbrough-Powell; Haskins’ super-passé, neither a closed or open position, instead existing deliciously in between. Tutto Eccetto Il Lavandino is a great piece for this company, and shows once again Caniparoli’s skill as a choreographical mixologist. But it is desperately calling for live musical accompaniment.

In its four gorgeous sections, Kylián’s Return To A Strange Land  (1975) takes its audience on an emotional journey. There is no linear story, yet clear feelings, moods and narratives abound through the work. Part I’s pas de trois (Yarbrough-Powell, Kretz and Dustin James) is equal parts solemn and hopeful as the three bodies weave tenderly and introspectively. Erica Chipp and Ben Needham-Wood attended the second section with maturity, depth and a sense of knowing. But there was also a profound duality at play – one minute they were soaring and swimming through the air and the next they were pulled to the floor with knee turns and skimming spins. The third chapter begins with Yarbrough-Powell and Kretz looking into the wings; trying to glimpse someone or something. And the duet that unfolds is one of that outward impulse, one of looking, one of searching. Part IV’s pas de trois (Chipp, Needham-Wood and Rex Wheeler) starts as a circuit of balances and picturesque tableaux. Then, through a series of temps levées, crescendos into large jumps of abandon. And you cannot talk about Return To A Strange Land without mentioning the phenomenal (and daring) balances that Kylián created to close each portion of the ballet. 

Pictured: Robert Moore and Terez Dean in
Helen Pickett's Oasis
Photo: Keith Sutter
“Dance Series Two” concluded with the premiere of Pickett’s much-anticipated Oasis, original score by Jeff Beal. Oasis starts with a musical entr’acte of sorts; a whimsical melody that felt bright and free. As the lights came up, wave-like structures comprised of flexible strands (design by Emma Kingsbury) hung from the rafters and water bubbles were projected onto them. All these collaborative elements set an impeccable framework for the ballet that would develop in the next thirty minutes, a dance of true splendor. Everything about Pickett’s Oasis was full – full cast, full throttle performances, full conceptual exploration through mesmerizing choreography. Coming from upstage, the dancers broke through the ‘curtains’, arms billowing, feet striking the ground in piqué, like droplets in a pool; legs kicked into the space, imaginary water being flicked off their toes. The ensemble (which the program says was sixteen dancers but I only counted fourteen) rushed the stage in a mystical, intoxicating sequence, almost like they were casting a spell. Packed with long extensions, a sensual duet for Felsch and Krukow fed into a flirty ballroom waltz – couples cleverly darting in and out of the wings. Moore and Terez Dean offered another tactile duet of longing and impulse. Small movements would ripple through and affect the entire body, as with water. A tiny circle of the leg would evolve into a huge rond de jambe; pas de chevals grew into full extensions. And these were just a few of the standout moments from Oasis. I believe this the second full-length piece of Pickett’s that Smuin Ballet has added to their repertoire, Petal being the first. Both are phenomenal works that marry traditional and contemporary ballet with ingenuity and gumption.

Smuin Ballet’s “Dance Series Two” runs for another weekend in San Francisco before heading off to Walnut Creek, San Mateo and Carmel.

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