Clever Premieres, Familiar Favorites Close Smuin's 28th Season
May 6, 2022—Smuin Contemporary Ballet is ending its 28th season with a diverse program of four contemporary works, including two successful world premieres by company dancers. Currently, at the Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco, the diverse program, titled "Dance Series 2 P.S. Forever Smuin," includes Val Caniparoli's quirky and fun Confessions (formerly titled "If I Were a Sushi Roll"), Amy Seiwert's serious Renaissance set to eastern European folk music, and two new works by dancers Tessa Barbour and Brennan Wall, who were invited to expand works they created for last season.
First performed as a duet in last spring's "Smuin al Fresco" series, Barbour's Vignettes is set to a mostly serious, yet uplifting score by Tchaikovsky. The piece opens with three women bowed on the floor, each in a dress of a different pastel hue. The costumes, designed by dancer Tess Lane, were simple, yet elegant and well-suited to the music and movement. Joined by three partners in pas de deux, they pirouetted and lifted in bold and graceful leaps. Erica Felsch, partnered with Marc LaPierre, looked especially graceful.
Dancer Brennan Wall's premiere work Untwine was set to a recomposed version of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons. Terez Dean Orr and Maxwell Simoes, in dark blue, opened with a pas de deux, followed by an ensemble of three other partners in white. In another successful instance of dancers multitasking, the costumes were designed by Jo Ellen Arntz with dancer/choreographer Wall. This is a beautiful piece worthy of a seasoned choreographer, but it's the ending that sticks in my memory. While Orr and Simoes partnered downstage, the ensemble in white rushed offstage, then immediately rushed back and offstage again, this time taking Simoes with them. Orr was left standing center stage alone in silhouette. There were audible "oh"s from the audience. It was an imaginative and effective move I've never seen done before.
Confessions is popular choreographer Val Caniparoli's rebranded "If I Were a Sushi Roll," which premiered in 2018, set to music by American contemporary classical composer Nico Muhly and singer/songwriter Teitur of the faraway Faroes Islands. As its original title hints, Confessions is an offbeat, humorous piece. It opened with the Company ensemble costumed in black dresses and suits, the women wearing ankle-high dance shoes, striking poses in unison to the lyrics. The ensemble broke off into pas de deux and generally acted up. The title of each of the nine sub-sections was projected onto the background, such as Describe You, Sick of Fish, Coffee Expert, etc. Occasionally a dancer would push onto the stage a sign picturing something like sushi or a depiction of a flask bearing the Japanese character for the rice wine sake. Confessions is a lot of fun and a lot of good dancing.
The program closed with Renaissance by Amy Seiwert, a composition of seven contemporary dances set to traditional eastern European songs sung by Kitka Women's Vocal Ensemble. Costumed in simple off-white tunics, Seiwert's dances are reminiscent of folk dances, yet more technically complex and challenging. Although it has some joyous moments, Renaissance is an elegant and serious work. Following the upbeat Confessions, it left the evening on a down note and should have come earlier in the program.
All in all, Smuin may arguably be the most enjoyable dance company in the Bay Area. The dancers seem to be with the audience, not apart, and visibly enjoying themselves so that the audience are participants rather than just spectators.
Smuin's Dance Series 2 runs through May 7 at the Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco. It continues in Mountain View from May 19 to 22, and in Carmel on May 27 and 28. For tickets and more information, see smuinballet.org.