Monthly Archive for: ‘October, 2015’

Smuin Ballet blends new with old — and imagination

[Woody’s Rating: ★★★★☆

Robert Kretz (center) and Terez Dean (back right) soar over other Smuin Ballet dancers in “Maslow,” part of company’s “Dance Series One.” Photo by Chris Hardy.

Robert Kretz (center) and Terez Dean (back right) soar over other Smuin Ballet dancers in “Maslow,” part of company’s “Dance Series One.” Photo by Chris Hardy.

Can new nd old dance routines fit together as naturally as mashed potatoes and gravy?

Sure — when performed by members of the Smuin Ballet.

Even with dancers regularly switching roles.

Consider, for example, the current combination at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco of two world premieres with two previously performed arrangements.

A pair of Dimitri Shostakovitch’s heavy Russian piano concerto movements first inspired late company founder Michel Smuin to choreograph “Bouquet” for the San Francisco Ballet in 1981.

I found the current rendition a pleasant interlude — picture-perfect in its traditional beauty and skill yet pale in contrast with the more evocative modern dance sequences of “French Twist,” “Maslow” and “Broken Open” that sandwiched it.

The range, however, is eclectic.

“French Twist,” an exceptionally amusing, fast 20-minute piece that debuted five years ago, was by far the most fun.

I smiled throughout.

Composer Hugues Le Bars purportedly wrote it while watching “Tom and Jerry” cartoons.

And choreographer Ma Cong ensured that his own marionette-like whimsicality poked through each arm, leg or body movement.

Slightly distracting were projected colorless backdrops of lines and arrowheads that seemed unnecessarily dreary. But creation everything has its warts, right?

“Maslow,” the first of the world premieres, was by far the most inventive, partially taking place in a leathery armchair, partially in the meandering mind of psychologist Abraham Maslow, a founding father of the human potential movement best known for his self-actualization theories.

Choreographed by Ben Needham-Wood, a Smuin dancer, it combined contemporary ballet and hip-hop based on a jazzy score by composer-cellist Ben Sollee.

In “Broken Open,” part of the Smuin Ballet's “Dance Series One,” are dancers (from left) Ben Needham-Wood, Rachel Furst and Jonathan Powell. Photo by Chris Hardy.

In “Broken Open,” part of the Smuin Ballet’s “Dance Series One,” are dancers (from left) Ben Needham-Wood, Rachel Furst and Jonathan Powell. Photo by Chris Hardy.

“Broken Open,” the second premiere, utilized music by Julia Kent and the explorative imagination of Amy Seiwert, choreographer-in-residence desirous of probing the creative process.

Illuminated onstage by a lone mysterious, moon-like spotlight, the piece featured all 16 of the company’s dancers (who kinetically but gracefully raced on and off stage as if chasing a tornado).

It may be noteworthy that this marked the first time I watched a ballet performance at a matinee.

The predominantly AARP card-carrying audience — minimally 10 women for every man — appeared more casually dressed than most evening crowds.

And it seemed happier at walking into the sunlight and not having to depend on fading night vision.

Smuin Ballet will reprise “Dance Series One” at the Sunset Center in Carmel March 25 and 26, and will perform its classic Christmas show from Nov. through Dec. 23 at various Bay Area venues. Information: or 1-415-912-1899 or www.smuinballet.org.

Contact Woody Weingarten at voodee@sbcglobal.net or at www.vitalitypress.com

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