Smuin Ballet’s XXSeason Finale. Mountain View, May 25

29 May

Because of a quick trip to Manila, I missed Smuin’s spring season at Yerba Buena Center. Too jet lagged to make it to Walnut Creek, if not wheedling an early June ride to the Monterey Peninsula, it had to be a matinee via Caltrain. Either side of Castro Street’s four blocks in Mountain View between the Caltrain Station and Mountain View’s Center for the Performing Arts is lined with restaurants, bistros and snack establishments. It was a formidable phenomenon to regard, even registering Sillicon Valley proximity, making my way to the box office to buy a ticket for the Smuin Ballet’s final spring season performance, XXCentric. Some eateries had sidewalk tables, all full.

Just before boarding the Bullet train in San Francisco, the queue waited while Giant fans streamed through the gates; cane-assisted seniors, white haired actives in shorts and backpacks, overweight young women in spaghetti -strap tees looking for a sunburn along with baseball, and middle aged women with shoulder-length black hair, white tee shirt covering small boobs a Giant logo in between, all punching Clipper cards at a machine before heading to AT&T Park.

Because I wanted to see Smuin from a buyer’s perspective, I paid a $60 plus price, to see was worth it? Years ago, a fellow reviewer accused critical practitioners as being parasites. There might be some justification when 300 words is all allowed the writer and told reviews are not a specialty coverage. Having written for dance-focused outlets, and some newspapers for most of a half century, I occasionally teeter on agreement. But I also know a bevy of excellent prose practitioners with definite ethics disputing that broad brush allegation. They work damned hard.

The choreographers’ represented were Val Caniparoli, Amy Siewart, Michael Smuin; Tutto Eccetto il Lavondino; But now I must rest; Dancin’ with Gershwin respectively, the music Antonio Vivaldi, Cesaria Evora, George and Ira Gershwin, and an additional lyric by Bud de Sylva.

Caniparoli came up with a delicious twist with two Antonio Vivaldi violin concerti, bowing accents forming unexpected head, shoulder, torso inflections, along with wonderful port de bras looking as though illustrations from a Carlo de Blasis dance manual. This alone is enough to provide delight. Juxtaposed against multiple pirouettes or attitude turns the eye kept busy and the mind agog. I don’t know if it really was necessary to slide a mint-colored kitchen sink on to stage center to reinforce the translation, “Everything but the kitchen sink.” The ballet itself continued some of Caniparoli’s special choreographic essays, Lambarena being the most widely mounted. Tutto Eccetto il Lavondino deserves to be another.

Amy Siewart’s But now I must rest is gentle, evocative, lyrical with formality while it also is earthy and sensual. There were forward and backward dips of the torso as the leg is thrust forward in Sandra Woodall’s costumes, two splits at the outer hip of the ankle length skirts for men and women. There were arm placements over the chest and upper hips which hinted at some form of religious ritual. The fluidity and feeling shared similarities with the movement skills of the Philippines, hardly surprising since both sets of islands share roughly the same latitude below the Tropic of Cancer.

Dancin’ With Gershwin premiered in May 2001, but this was my first viewing of Smuin’s tribute to George and Ira Gershwin. It is a charmer, commencing with a slide show of musical poster and sheet music covers of Gershwin’s music, enhanced by Willa Kim’s costuming, decor by Rick Goodwin and Lighting by Sara Linnie Slocum. A white-gowned Erin Yarbrough danced with Weston Krukow in dark suit to “They Can’t Take that Away From Me.” Following “S’Wonderful,” Marilyn Monroe’s rendition of “Do It Again” saw Erica Felsch in slinky scarlet surrounded by white ostrich plumes wafted by the company men; plumes and Felsch’s positions and postures echoed the breathily-delivered lyrics. Roland Petit created something similar for his wife Zizi Jeanmaire, but where motion matches emotion, it’s always appropriately piquant.

Then Shannon Hulburt emerged from darkness to tap under variously placed spots in otherwise murky space, executing his magical phrasing of The Canadian Brass. Listed as guest artist, Hulburt has been a company mainstay. I hope he stays around, is invited often.

Susan Roemer and Erica Felsch were paired in “I’ve Got a Crush on You,” turning Roemer into a male figure, and even involving some quick lifting – clearly a Smuin reference to the rising importance of the LBGT population. It was followed by Jane Rehm in billowing tiers of white ruffles for “Summertime.”

Two more numbers and then the finale “Shall We Dance” with the company in frequent couples formations, adding Hulburt’s partnering skills to the ensemble’s full-bodied ending. The dancers relished every minute of the Smuin creation. It also led me to an interesting evaluation.

Was I satisfied? Yes. Was I entertained? Yes. Was I enthralled or inspired? No. Currently, for all the competence, rigor and sustained skill, the Smuin Ballet focus is to entertain and satisfy. The possibility of a Jiri Kylian work included in a season’s repertoire now and again testifies to the difference in overall vision.

I do not intend to denigrate Smin Ballet’s clear accomplishments, not the least of which provides sixteen dancers and a guest artist with Social Security payments, with a livelihood for a six person production crew, ten persons for artistic and administrative guidance, apart from invited choreographers, designers, photographers and publicists. That achievement is no mean feat in today’s economy. That I can also celebrate and believe I got my money’s worth.


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