Monday, May 08, 2023

Smuin Contemporary Ballet - Dance Series 2

Smuin Contemporary Ballet
Dance Series 2
Blue Shield of California Theater at YBCA, San Francisco
May 5th, 2023

Last Friday, Smuin Contemporary Ballet landed at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts for the San Francisco stop on their current regional tour. Led by Artistic Director Celia Fushille, the company brought a sensational quadruple bill for this last program of 2022-2023. Though what transpired on stage was anything but final. Yes, Dance Series 2 closes the company’s 29th season, but if you were in the audience on Friday night, you can attest to the feast of beginnings. A world premiere from the newly named Associate Artistic Director, Amy Seiwert; a roster of dancers who are not only individually impressive, but seamlessly gelling together as a group; and an organization on the cusp of its 30th anniversary. What a night!

A perfect welcome into the theater space, Dance Series 2 kicked off with a pair of shorter ballets, Katarzyna Skarpetowska’s Sextette (2021) and Founder Michael Smuin’s Dream (1999). Danced by four women and two men and set to a stirring Bach concerto, Sextette is a joyful study in stage patterning and cannoned timing. Movement phrases had staggered starts, like much Baroque music. A delight to watch, the choreography was lush, melty, legato, and incredibly intricate. The Smuin dancers were lovely in this chamber work, with just a few partnering moments proving tricky. 

Moving out of the Baroque era into the Romanticism of Chopin, Smuin’s Dream took the next spot in Dance Series 2. A gorgeous duet framed by a dark starry backdrop and superbly danced at this performance by Brennan Wall and Ricardo Dyer, we could have easily been watching a pas de deux from Romeo & Juliet (with a few costume tweaks). It was that sweet; that tender; that romantic. But unlike many classical ballet duets, Dream was not at all fussy. It was full of giant, overhead lifts, and an undeniable sense of searching – both for something and someone.

Tessa Barbour, Cassidy Isaacson and Terez Dean Orr
in Caniparoli's Swipe
Photo Chris Hardy

With multiple choreographic chapters coming together to create a cohesive whole, contemporary suite structure took center stage in the last two pieces. Deliciously unpredictable from one moment to the next, Val Caniparoli’s full throttle Swipe (2012) had the best technical dancing of the evening. Performed by seven dancers over seven sections, staccato, angular movement gave a decidedly mechanical, robotic feel. Hips jutted out in space, ribs hyperextended and arms flew at spectacular speeds. Movement influences ranged from the catwalk to disco to African dance, all while Gabriel Prokofiev’s score pulsed and drummed through the air. Swipe was a crowd-pleaser, to be sure, though for me, the score stayed more or less in the same dynamic range when compared to the changeable and unexpected choreography. And the work did feel a little on the lengthy side. 

Dance Series 2 closed with Seiwert’s new playful, spirited, colorful suite, French Kiss, set to a beautiful collection of music from Pink Martini. As the lights went up, the large ensemble (fifteen dancers!) cycled through a winning series of mannequin-esque poses and gestures. These initial moments set the tone for the rest of the piece. While there were some purposefully reflective sequences, overall French Kiss was sweet, happy and fun; you couldn’t help but smile when looking at the stage. Actual mannequins made an appearance mid-way through, as did some other theatrical props. But it was never too crowded or too busy. There is much to love about Seiwert’s choreography and for me, her treatment of pointework is most intriguing. She combines full pointe and non-pointework together. She explores demi-pointe in pointe shoes, revealing new choreographic vocabulary and possibilities. French Kiss was a hit. I’m sure it won’t be every long before Smuin’s audiences see it again.

Smuin Ballet in Seiwert's French Kiss
Photo Chris Hardy