Tag Archives: Smuin Ballet

San Francisco’s Summer Specialities

12 Jul

What San Francisco’s dance scene provides in the summer is its increasing variety of interesting works, many of which are organized by artists and choreographers engaged in other organizations during most of the year.

Thus far there has been SF Dance Works’ premiere season and July 8-10, the Cowell Theatre at Fort Mason has housed Amy Seiwart’s 6th Sketch, where she has invited  choreographers to join her in stretching their vocabularies, utilizing some exciting dancers, and choroegraphers coming from Sewiart’s various  associations .

July 8 provided a foggy evening to trail down the western side of the Fort Mason pier that houses the Cowell Theatre where the original corridor has been cordoned off and the vast space is being remodeled. Eventually, the entrance is to be moved to the eastern side of the pier and none too soon when one contemplates the varied weather one encounters in reaching the space which has housed so many dance events since Fort Mason became a cultural definition. Friday nights also is the evening Fort Mason has inaugurated Off The Grid, where a cluster of 30 mobile trucks serve specialties to anyone hungry, nearby or purposely attending to sample the variety, 5-10 p.m. complete with music and three bars.

Returning to dancing, Amy Seiwart came out from behind the red curtain to explain that the brief season are intended to help two or three invited choreographers besides herself stretch themselves beyond their acquired choreographic “tool box,” trying something outside their comfort zone. The invited were Nicole Haskins, Anthony Hoagland and Val Caniparoli. Hoagland’s Cigarettes was a repeat from the 2011 season. But Haskin’s With Alacrity and Caniparoli’s 4 in the Morning were premieres, as was Seiwart’s Instructions. Most of the ten dancers have worked in various companies where Seiwart has choreographed.

Haskin’s With Alacrity utilized a quartet, three women and a man in various encounters, Andre Silva with Beth Ann Maslinoff, Kelsey McFalls and Annali Rose. Susan Roemer’s monochrome costumes were alleviated by a band of multi hued patterned fabric at the waist of the women’s skirts and Silva’s tights. The floor patterns as well as the movements were atypical but not arresting and while there was some partnering, nothing suggested male-female attraction or particular rivalry.

Following a pause was “Three Cigarettes in an Ashtray” is a plaintiff folksy song, sung by what seems to have been five different interpreters to illuminate a table, four chairs, plus a vintage refrigerator brought out by James Gilmer, Scott Marlowe and Peter Frank, housing Sarah C. Griffin, the quartet costumed by Jamiellyn Duggan. The men, garbed in iconic scruffy clothing, open up the refrigerator door to reveal Griffin jack-knifed in its interior, trailing gown befitting ‘Thirties style glamour, and three pairs of high-heeled shoes which she removes, steps into and removes at various moments before clutching all three and reverting to her original cold storage.. The contrast between the beer-culture behavior of the men and the intense glamour, unfufilled, was as fascinating as Griffin is as a dancer, clearly a major talent.

Seiwart’s Instructions was clearly the major component of the program and her plunge into narrative, in this instance a lengthy poem by Neil Garman, augmented by Benjamin Britten’s Suite for Cello, played on stage by Michelle Kwon, stopping and starting as dancer-actor Scott Marlowe spoke the lines and seven dancers provided the territory or obstacles which the wayfarer encountered. Seiwart’s capacity for groupings grounded her foray into narrative, utilizing gestures and postures suggesting the terrain through which the traveller moved. Susan Roemer’s black costumes enhanced the quasi-magical implications of Garman’s words. It’s a work that should be seen again.

Caniparoli’s Four in the Morning took its inspiration from William Walter’s music for Facade, though completely different from Frederick Ashton’s selections from the poem of Edith Sitwell. Costumer Susan Roemer clothed the men in their skivvies, shoes with socks to mid-calf and the women in lightly cream-colored slip-like satin gowns, while each verse was marked by a clock-like entry on back stage left-side curtain, slightly blurred because of the scarlet folds. Caniparoli has created a tongue-in-check entertaining pieces for Smuin Ballet, but nothing to my knowledge set to speech. Sitwell’s verse runs a path trippingly on the tongue in the best Gilbert and Sullivan manner; the content, however, is as pared down and suggestive as the deshabile of the costuming, the women with knowing and occasionally with some come hither, shoulder gestures, cocked chins and flicks of the hand. The men lunge, pirouette, lifting the women, disappear with one suggestively, tossing out garments to suggest the inevitable horizontal postures.  But no, one garment is a kilt.

Both Caniparoli and Sewiart’s works utilized all eight dancers: Sarah C. Griffin, Rachel Furst, Annali Rose, Beth Ann Maslinoff, James Gilmer, Peter Franc, Andre Silva and Scott Marlowe.

Thanks to Amy Seiwart and her generous Sketch, next summer is something to anticipate.

Intelligent, Colloquial and Smart: SF Dance Works Premiere

26 Jun

SF Dance Works, which gave its premiere performance June 23 at the ODC Performance Gallery,the co-presenter by the bye, elicited a wave of nostalgia for me, thanks to the audience and their enthusiastic support for the dancers and the material they spun before the eyes of these clearly vocal fans.

Well they might. James Sofranko, the founder and artistic director of SF Dance Works, is not only a soloist with San Francisco Ballet, and company member since 2000, he also has co-organized a yearly benefit for cancer research. Additionally, he has choreographed at least two works for San Francisco Ballet’s spring student showcases, reflecting the arrangement smarts he absorbed while at Juilliard Music Institute’s Dance Department. He also has incorporated former Julliard classmate Anne Zivolich-Adams in the inaugural cast, a dancer much missed in the ODC Dance Company.

What wafted over me during the program was the remembered feeling of San Francisco Ballet’s summer programs on 18th Avenue and the rooting nature of the audiences who peopled the risers in the upstairs converted studio those summer weekend programs. These dancers and choreography, to be sure, are infinitely more experienced and savvy, but the ambiance isn’t easily repeated or imitated. Thursday night’s performance, however, evoked those earnest and active days.

The five-part program with one intermission started and ended with the six-dancer ensemble which included former SF Ballet soloists Dana Genshaft and Garrett Anderson, the former now working in modern dance at the company’s school and Anderson, after a stint abroad, with Chicago’s Hubbard Street Dance Company. The additional dancers were Amber Neumann, a Joffrey Company dancer, Ben Needham Wood from the Smuin Company, Kendall Teague, originally hired by Dennis Nahat for Ballet San Jose, and Tobin del Cuore, another Juilliard Alum, with Hubbard credits as well as Lar Lubovitch and Azure Barton, Houston Grand Opera and Chicago’s Lyric Opera.

These seven dancers graced the inventions of Lar Lubovitch, Alejandro Cerrudo, Penny Saunders and the local talents of Dana Genshaft and James Sofranko. The works were enhanced by by Heather Basarab’s lighting, abetted by Rayan O’Gara as well as Jason Brown and a variety of music, the most notable being Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A Major, and a portion of Franz Liszt.

Penny Saunders’ Joe and Ida, a co-production with Cedar Rapids Ballet supplied a quirky boy meets girl, the sextet seeming a contemporary take on Robbins’ Fancy Free, however minus sailors, shoes and costumed minimally by Saunders and Melissa Leitch. Saunders, another Harid Conservatory graduate like Sofranko, has Hubbard Street and Cedar Lake credits and is now in a three-year residency with Grand Rapids Ballet where Patricia Barker is artistic director.

One can see that this boy-girl encounter can enliven a contemporary program. It’s brim full of body-parts exploration, from the tentative reach of a hand to rotator cuff manipulation, torso undulation and abrupt shifts in weight and position of the legs and feet. I was amazed to see just what Saunders could elicit from a skilled human body. With six composers in a sound mix, Joe and Ida invites comparison to the endless apps on a smart phone.

Dana Genshaft’s Portrait, inspired by the 19th century French novelist George Sand, was the most staged production in that the work possessed floor projections placing dancer Amber Neumann in context – a field of flowers, a scene of Paris in the mid-19th century and then a neutral where Neumann is divested of Karin Mossen’s black horsehair hoop, replaced by the trousers for which Sand was so noted. An intriguing subject, Neumann spent a fair amount of the Max Richter-Franz Liszt score reaching forward and swirling, suggesting protest and groping for an acceptable ambiance.

Bob Crosby’s music gave Sofranko the basis of displaying Anne Zivolich-Adams’ perky side, quick shifts of direction, abrupt elevation, and her dry “Okay, try me.” Next time I hope Sofranko explores her dramatic depth. But it simply was great to see her prodigious talent showcased.

The program’s first half finished with Lar Lubovich’s male pas de deux from Concerto Six Twenty Two to W.A.Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A major, a work associated with the AIDS crisis. Danced by Garrett Anderson and Tobin Del Cuore, it is wonderful blend of so-called modern and classical ballet which was expressed without embellishments, but filled with a range of tenderness, sensitivity and respect that a deep bond between two men can possess.


SFDanceworks. Garrett Anderson, Tobin Del Cuore in Concerto Six Twenty-Two by Lar Lubovitch. Photo by Andrew Weeks

Following intermission the sextet completed the program with Alejandro Cerrudo’s Likety Split, premiered in 2006 by the Hubbard Street Dance Project. Another semi-comic encounter of the sexes with the inevitable hesitations and awkwardness, it seemed that Penny Saunders had absorbed the situation and provided a more lively comment.

For the rationale behind Sofranko’s choices, let me recommend Toba Singer’s interview for Culture Vulture. The aim has been well interpreted, the material reasonably varied; the second season will doubtless build on this auspicious, beautifully danced beginning.

NDT 2,San Francisco, Monday February 16

28 Feb

Talk about Under the Radar!

Rita Felciano gave me her spare seat to the sold-out, single performance of NDT II Monday, February 16, sandwiched between two engagements South and north of San Francisco. Margaret Karl, 11 years a San Francisco dancer, was responsible for public relations, abetted by Facebook, accounting for a third of ticket sales to see this eighteen dancer ensemble. At the door of the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre [celebrating its centennial February 20] were individuals murmuring “Ticket for sale?”

For a few, certainly for me, one draw was Benjamin Berends, Santa Rosa native, who studied with Tamara Stakoun and Gina Ness at Santa Rosa Dance Theatre, Richard Gibson and Zory Karah at Academy of Ballet, San Francisco,with Boston Ballet Trainee Program and Andre Reyes, before joining Smuin Ballet briefly, then dancing with the Trey McIntyre Project before it dissolved. With Marc Platt I had seen him as the prince in the Nutcracker one December, witnessing Marc’s approval and injunction to study hard, a treat not often witnessed of a one-time notable exhorting a future notable.

As a trivia collector, I noted that seven hailed from North America – two from Canada; eight from The Netherlands and nearby Belgium and Denmark; two from Japan; one from England, along with the fact that NDT’s artistic directors hail from England and Spain with one of its originals, Jiri Kylian from Czechoslovakia. Similarly, two works came from the artistic directors, one from Israel, one from Sweden. The dancers themselves have equal physical diversity, in excellent condition of course; one or two the women one would expect in the United States to elect dancing in modern dance companies. Hail NDT!

The group, dancing with wonderful ensemble sense,still have arrived fairly recently to their positions, five dancers joining in 2012, four in 2013, eight in 2014 and one just this January.

Johan Singer’s New Then, 2012, introduced half the company to five of Van Morrison’s songs with the expected results of vigorous if unexpected movements – bends, crouches, swivels in the hips, directional explorations in the arms and partnering. Boy-girl relationships scarcely enjoyed length or happy conclusion, though everything was this side of sinister.

Imre van Optsal and Spencer Dickhaus were paired in Shutters Shut, the 4 minute work by Sol Leon and Paul Lightfoot, 2003, set to a Gertrude Stein poem “If I told him: A completed portrait of Picasso.” I found it textually annoying, if the dancers were themselves contrasted in more ways than one. Van Opsal, a robust figured woman, contrasted with Dickhaus, slender to the point of being wispy; they were dressed in black and white swimsuit like leotards with the black on one body in the position of where it appeared on the other, quite appropriate for Stein’s repetitions, declaimed in her own voice.

Sara, created in 2013 by Sharon Eyad and Gail Behar, used seven dancers to Ori Lichtik’s music, and was dressed in skinlike unitards. It was not a work to linger in memory like the final number following intermission.

Leon and Lightfoot also created in 2003 a work to the second movementt of Franz Schubert’s Death and the Maiden String Quartet #14, titled Subject to Change. With four dancers in black suits, Gregory Lau, Benjamin Behrends, Richel Wieles amd Spencer Dichaus, the principals were Katharine van de Wouwer and Alexander Anderson, plus a square of red carpet, which the quarter unrolled before de Wouwer appeared and later manipulated counterclockwise at an appropriate moment, traditionally a symbol of death.

Alexander Anderson, a Juilliard graduate, Princess Grace recipient among other awards, was the death figure, stripped to the waist and graced with a most articulate, well-defined set of muscles, partnered de Wouwer dressed in a short filmy costume, hers a sweet-eyed, warm countenance, compliant in the embrace of the inevitable, if not wholly cognizant of the import. I found myself remembering George Balanchine’s La Valse and an Agnes de Mille work for the Joffrey, A Bridgroom Called Death, also to Schubert’s music. In both these earlier works the same fascination/ambivalence appeared. Anderson disappears; at the end de Wouwer stands alone, stage center on the red carpet, her attitude of wonder, ageless, supplicant and accepting.

Of the five works danced this memorable Monday evening Subject to Change has lingered longest in the memory. And the company? come again soon, please!

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.