By Bette Kiernan
My friend and I met the at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts on Castro Street in Mountain View, where The Smuin Ballet is presenting its Spring Fling XXcentric Spring Dance Series, running throughout major theatre venues from May 2 to June 7, 2014.
Two world premiere works by famed choreographers, Val Caniparoli of the San Francisco Ballet and Amy Seiwert, Choreographer for the Smuin Ballet, were commissioned by Smuin’s artistic director, to showcase their special new works.
The grand, orange, mission – style theatre stands out among Mountain View’s leafy tree – lined streets and seemed to welcome us. Both of us were excited about the ballet we were about to see, and we arrived early enough to share drinks and to chat before the highly anticipated performance.
The dark, wood – lined cafe offered us an appealing array of hearty meals and exquisite pastries as we ordered our tea. The many – layered dark chocolate cake sends me its siren call. The warm, breezy summer night seemed to urge us towards the outdoor patio. Near our seating, a provocative contemporary sculpture was set into a splashy fountain and added to the lovely setting that encourages meaningful conversation. As elaborately dressed, excitedly chattering ballet goers wafted their lovely perfumes into the air as they streamed past our table and up the stairs to the box office, they created a sort of pre-ballet dance of their own with their crisply focused movements and happily expectant faces.
Michael Smuin, the founder and director of the Smuin Ballet, died tragically in 2007. The loss devastated the company, but they resiliently recovered to enable the Smuin company to continue to bring forth his extraordinarily creative energy through the stage presentations of his brilliant works. Famed for integrating classical ballet and modern dance forms, Smuin created a new dance.
Physicist Richard Feynman wrote, “Deep in the sea all molecules repeat the patterns of one another till complex new ones are formed. They make others like themselves and a new dance starts.” Smuin truly left a great legacy to the dance world in the “new dance” he created. “Dancin’ with Gershwin,“ featured in the current Smuin XXcentirc SpringDance Series, is an example of an extravaganza that shows his imaginative genius through the most creative forms of great artistic expression.
The work opens with a magnificent display of Broadway and film billboards, sheet music, and posters of the productions featuring Gershwin’s music. The powerfully portrayed images evoke the feel of a bygone, more romantic era, and emotionally set the stage for the grand musical shows of the 1920’s and 30’s ( he produced?) until his death in 1937. His songs, “S’wonderful,” “Do It Again,” “The Man I Love,” “Summertime,” and others, when danced by the Smuin company to the music of Marilyn Monroe, Carmen McRae, Sting, and Michael Feinstein, are magnificent.
In the varied sets in the Gerswhin offering, Smuin weaves its special magic with fabulous strokes of red and white colors into the fabrics of the costumes. Smuin does this with special verve, not only in the current Spring XXcentric Spring Dance Series, , but also in its most charming “Dear Miss Cline,” choreographed by Seiwert and featured in their recent Xxtremes Winter Series. Here they also showcase delightful red and white costumes in dances of the country songs of Patsy Cline, using these to accurately portray the 1950’s landscape.
Creativity continues to run high throughout “Dancin with Gershwin.” Fabulous different sets danced to Gershwin’s songs astonish. A male tap dancer charmingly and masterfully clicks across the stage, thrilling the audience; a solo dancer in her cute red and white shorts outfit enchants ; while steamy duets and other dancers cause the audience to erupt in cheers and wild applause again and again.
In “Do it Again,” a Marilyn Monroe – styled songstress outfitted in a blonde, curly wig and gorgeous red gown is the epitome of the glamorous, high – production numbers of the time. She is supported by formally dressed male fan dancers with enormous white feathers against a background of a starry night sky. Since the great musical dance production numbers of Broadway and the films of the Gershwin era have mostly gone by the wayside, it is a great gift to have the Smuin Ballet return them for a special and memorable evening.
Choreographer Val Caniparoli presented his premier work, Tutto Eccetto Il Lavandino (Everything but the Kitchen Sink) in celebration of Smuin’s twentieth anniversary. The dancers, costumed in varying shades of green, immediately bring the audience deeply into the realms of nature, just as Vivaldi does in The Four Seasons. The perfect connection between the music and the dancers’ movements is most impressive.
In this work, music and dance together convey nature’s power through alternating cycles of strong, powerful discordant movements and flowing rhythmic motions that communicate natural events, such as the breaking of the deeply frozen ice of winter, violent storms, and the gentle graceful emergence of new spring flowers. A most beautiful work on the surface, a deeper look reveals an important understanding of the oneness between ourselves, nature, and all things.
When Vivaldi introduced The Four Seasons, it was considered a revolutionary work because the composer included sounds of nature that range from mosquitos buzzing to silent nights. Caniparoli’s piece, too, is revolutionary, as he integrates seemingly disparate forms to create a powerful work of art that mirrors systemic processes as they move between chaos to order. A delightfully amusing and witty finale to the work is the sudden appearance on stage of the titled “kitchen sink” that surprises and delights the audience.
Smuin Choreographer Amy Seiwert has another hit under hat with her highly innovative world premiere, “Now I must rest.“ Drawing her inspiration from the exotic music of Cesaria Evora and Seiwert, she uses sultry, steamy movements for dancers in hotly colored, deep red and magenta costumes against a warm golden background. This phenomenal piece stirs warmth in the viewer’s soul. In line during intermission, I overheard one ballet goer ask another regarding the Seiwert’s piece, “So was it Incas or Aztecs?” Her companion replied, “It can be any southerly place you want it to be!” A good summary of the work is that it successfully transports one through an invisible window to a far away, lush, and exotic land where the love and romance for which one longs abound.
The raves for the Smuin Ballet Company will reverberate across time and space, just as its ballet evokes the past, and the creativity and artistry of its dances will reach far into the future.
The Smuin Ballet’s XXcentric Spring Dance Series will be offered in Carmel at the Sunset Center on June 6-7.
For more information about future performances go to the Smuin Ballet Company website.
Photos: Courtesy of Smuin Ballet Company
This review was originally published in Splash Magazines ( magazine or magazines??)on May 26, 2014