Smuin Ballet’s Spring Season, Bayside Performing Arts Center, May 28

16 Jul

San Francisco’s dance history in the second half of the twentieth century is marked by the presence, achievements and career of Michael Smuin.  The native Montanan danced for San Francisco Ballet before moving on to night club routines with his former wife Paula Tracy, then to American Ballet Theatre where he was principal dancer until rejoining San Francisco Ballet as co-artistic director.  A dozen years later, Smuin’s contract with the company was not renewed. After a successful interim with Broadway musicals, in 1994 Smuin started his own company. Following Smuin’s sudden death in 2007, artistic direction was assumed by Cecilia Fusile with former Smuin dancer Amy Seiwart as choreographer in residence.

Choo San Goh’s Momentum, created for the Joffrey II Company in 1979, opened the program. The ensemble, white unitards slashed with black, dancing to Prokofiev, initially formed a close circle. In their presentation,the Smuin dancers consistently hit the beat together, dancing as a unit, energy and pleasure reaching across the footlights. The men are consistently strong, the women substantial and feminine though one would be hard pressed to  believe the latter as Sylph, although some may once have been cast as a Wili.  With the exception of Erin Yarborough-Stewart, the women’s shoulders and necks tend to stiffness, lacking  articulation; several tend to force movement, blurring finish.

Amy Seiwart’s choreography to Mozart’s Requiem is her best to date.  The dancers are seen crouching in two diagonal lines at the beginning; when Yarborough-Stewart bourrees towards them, they rise. Performing before a central veil used as retreat and emergence, the partnering at times sees the women raised in jack-knife position.  Floor work is combined with classical
vocabulary sometimes surprising, sometimes harmonious.  Two couples differently echo the wonder of Balanchine’s Apollo quartet formations.  It is a work to be seen again.

The program finished with Smuin’s work “To The Beatles,” first created for San Francisco Ballet shortly before Smuin’s contractual difficulties.  I never saw it but it is clear now how it must have nettled many company contributors. Smuin’s sass and theatrical savvy was out in full display, abetted by Sandra Woodall’s costuming, quite in keeping with mid’80’s pop taste, swivel hips, short skirts, choli tops with bell bottom trousers, tie-dye hues.  Heaps of
technical bravura was present, the most subtle being Shannon Hulbert’s tap improvisation to J.S. Bach. While nuance or depth was lacking, the audience loved it. Clearly, its periodic revival will continue to elicit affectionate response.

A personal delight was seeing the return to the Bay Area from Hong Kong of Jonathan Mangosing. Starting his career with San Francisco Ballet, impressively substituting in Helgi Tomasson’s Concerto Grosso, Mangosing has retained his floating jumps; like all dancers truly at home in their bodies, he possesses the sense of line in space which makes for distinction.

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