Smuin Ballet Delivers Star Power with Salsa 'til Dawn
by Michael Phelan
September 22, 2023—Neoclassical ballet, country-western, and salsa have launched Smuin Ballet's 30th season with a rush. The highlight of this season's Dance Series 1, now at Mountain View, Performing Arts Center, is the world premiere of Salsa 'til Dawn by Darrell Grand Moultrie set to a score by celebrated composer Charles Fox.
Moultrie has created works of multiple dance genres for renowned companies and world-famous performers as well as for theater. For him to premiere one of his works with Smuin is a testament to the Company's stature. Composer Charles Fox, the recipient of Grammy, Emmy, and Golden Globe Awards, created the score for Smuin's Zorro! as well as several ballets, famous movies, television shows, and famous singers, including a Song of the Year Grammy for Roberta Flack's "Killing Me Softly with His Song." For Salsa 'til Dawn, Fox has created lively and moving Cuban jazz scores composed of works performed in concert in Havana and Paris.
Salsa 'til Dawn is a joyful riot of movement, sound, and color in six acts. In the opening act, Blue Pachanga, twelve dancers, women in brightly colored, '50s style summer dresses and men in colorful, short-sleeved Cuban shirts burst onto the stage to a lively Latin rhythm of brass and congas. João Sampaio danced solo in Without You, delivering slow, smooth classical moves in a grey unitard. Tessa Barbour was impressive performing pirouettes in Salsa dance heels. In the final act, Salsa Suite, the entire ensemble appears in white costumes in front of large, colorful squares, by artist Douglas Melini, dancing playfully to a Latin rhythm. After the final curtain call, the ensemble resumes dancing, reminiscent of the playful snowball fight that resumes after the final bow in Smuin's The Christmas Ballet. Salsa 'til Dawn is an instant classic destined to be sought by many companies in years to come.
Opening the evening was choreographer Val Caniparoli's offbeat Tutto Eccetto il Lavandino (everything but the kitchen sink), set to Vivaldi. First performed in 2014, this joyful piece was performed by the women in pointe shoes and short skirts and the men in tights. The "everything" in the title includes all sorts of movements: simulated running, flapping arms, and stalking. Caniparoli's moves in this neoclassical work are fun, and can sometimes come across as awkward, but there are also demanding classical movements in this work that demonstrate Smuin's high technical skills. Cassidy Isaacson partnered with Jace Pauly was especially notable.
Between the two lighthearted works was James Kudelka's serious The Man in Black, danced by Brandon Alexander, Ian Buchanan, Terez Dean Orr, and João Sampaio in cowboy boots and dark, western-style clothing to recordings by Johnny Cash. The Man in Black is billed as a contemporary ballet. Choreographer Kudelka has drawn from different styles of country-western dance, such as step and line dancing, but the distinctions may be lost on those unfamiliar with the genre. The four dancers stomp or gallop as a chain, usually of three while sometimes one of the men separates, miming the lyrics. Recorded by Cash in his last year of life, his raspy voice is clearly that of an old man, giving an even more somber tone to some dark lyrics about heartache, hurting oneself, and "damn your eyes." Throughout, the dancers' facial expressions are a stoic affirmation of enduring hardship. Some will find The Man in Black a meaningful, poetic achievement, others may see it as a melancholy downer.
Smuin's Dance Series 1 runs through September 24th in Mountain View, then from September 29th through October 7th at Cowell Theater in San Francisco. For more information see Smuin Contemporary Ballet.