Smuin Ballet at San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts, September 15, 2011

29 Sep

Smuin Ballet danced two weekends at the Palace of Fine Arts, in San Francisco, September 15-October 1, 2011with three Smuin works and “Dear Miss Cline,” a premiere by Amy Seiwert, the company’s resident choreographer.  The Smuin Ballets included “Eternal Idol,” which Michael Smuin created in 1969 and interpreted by Cynthia Gregory and Ivan Nagy for American Ballet Theater.  The works for Smuin Ballet were “”Tango Palace” and “Stabat Mater,” the latter Smuin’s response to 9/11,  all danced to taped music.


” Tango Palace,” created for the fall 2003 season, was new to me.  Employing six dancers, Smuin gave great attention to the three-quarters view, or efface, as the women sat in three separated chairs up stage, waiting for the men to appear as they did from mid stage right, in somber tones with hats to be discarded at suitable moments. Shannon Hurlburt and Christian Squires danced an interesting pas de deux following Hurlburt’s rejection by Robin Cornwell, only to receive a second rebuff following their beautifully accented execution.  Cornwall and Jonathan Dummar completed this first section with one of Smuin’s sensual and suggestive pas de deux.


After a black out, Smuin followed this absorbing dance with a bland exposition of the women on pointe, their skirts discarded, partnered by the men.  It was an addition one suspects designed to make the ballet  suitably  covering until intermission. What a pity;  it watered down the initial punch and excitement,. another example where Smuin failed to recognize to quit when ahead.


“Stabat Mater,” set to Anton Dvorak’s music, presented a somber theme in a range of brilliant satin hues, striped with black, as if trying to straddle theatrics with the emotion of loss, remembering and disappearance.  Erin Yarbrough-Stewart and John Speed Orr danced the principal roles, Yarbrough-Stewart  conveying the stark theme with her small body as earnestly as she invariably does. Having seen Smuin’s “Mozart Requiem” in his San Francisco Ballet days,  I recognized a number of movement phrases lifted from parts of that earlier work, copied from Jerry Arpino’s “Trinity.”


“The Eternal Idol” provided Robin Cornwell with an excellent vehicle to display her length and sensual fullness, well supported by Jonathan Dummar; his height and partnering skills allowed Cornwell full expression to Chopin. “Dear Miss Cline,” Seiwert’s contribution, relied on the lyrics of the late Patsy Cline’s hit tunes, country music style. The ballet exhibited an innocence and honesty in its approach to corn-pone fare relying on the body and the movement patterns to convey the emotions.


It is the closest Seiwert has come to emulating her mentor , but with  a crispness where Smuin would have leaned on theatrics. The lyrics were adroitly interpreted by the company, particularly Susan Roemer in “She’s Got You,” where Roemer progressively lost her partner while retaining the vocal souvenirs.  Erin Yarbrough-Stewart swung her attention left and right to Christian Squires and John Speed Orr in “Tra le la le la Triangle” just like Oklahoma’s “Cain’t Say No.”  She again was winsome with Orr in “Pick Me Up On Your Way Down.”  In sum, it was a pleasant closer.


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