In Review

Smuin Ballet Dance Series Two

4 out of 5 stars
4 out of 5 stars - 'Smashing'
May 27-28 Ÿ Lesher Center for the Arts Ÿ Walnut Creek
June 3-4 Ÿ San Mateo Performing Arts Center Ÿ San Mateo
June 10-11 Ÿ Sunset Center Ÿ Carmel
Artistic Director - Celia Fushille
Review by Cy Ashley Webb

Lights dimmed on the royal blue curtain at the Yerba Buena Arts Center, a pause before the curtain rose on Dance Series Two, which concludes the Smuin Ballet’s 22nd season. Dance Series Two brings compelling works, none choreographed by Michael Smuin.

The opening number more than lived up to its title Tutto Eccetto Il Lavandino (everything but the kitchen sink). Choreographed by Val Caniparoli, this 11-part dance, which premiered in 2014, had a sense of mechanical whimsy, not unlike the Vivaldi to which it was performed.

The second half began with Return to a Strange Land. With choreography by Jiří Kylián, and piano music composed by Leoš Janáček, this piece, which speaks to a sense of loss and dislocation, is not without bits of complete silliness. Performed by six dancers, it relies on traveling moves and carries to create interesting geometries.

The final number Oasis was choreographed by Helen Pickett. With a look and feel entirely unlike Pickett’s Petal, danced this time last year, Oasis demonstrated her phenomenal range.

Music composed by Jeff Beal (composer for “House of Cards”) begins even before the curtains open. For a long moment, the music hovers in the air, creating a longing to be filled. However, even after the open curtain reveals a striking set, marked by the long white flowing strings suspended from the ceiling, not unlike a waterfall, a sense of incompletion lingers, resolved only by the entrance of five female dancers.

Smuin Ballet - Dance Series Two
Smuin dancers Rex Wheeler and Ben Needham-Wood in Val Caniparioli’s Tutto Eccetto il Lavandino
(everything but the kitchen sink),
part of Smuin Ballet’s Dance Series Two,
touring the Bay Area now through June 11.
Smuin Ballet - Dance Series Two
(l-r) Smuin dancers Dustin James and Robert Moore with Erica Felsch (center)

The initial music, with ominous mocking hints of carnival, helped create a cage from which the dancers, despite their high-energy performance, never seemed to escape. This sense of caging was aided by the black-and-white feel to piece, a feeling  only resolved when lighting colors shifted to restful, peaceful tones in the last minutes.

Oasis was nonetheless interesting to watch. Shadows of the dancers moved across the black and white video projections of abstract images of water, creating a second and third source of movement.

While each piece was excellent in themselves, they collectively suffered from a sameness, both with respect to somber monochromatic costumes, and emotional feel, which repeatedly honed back to a vague sense of mechanistic whimsy, even despite moves of abandon.

This small nit aside, one cannot help being wowed by the quality of Smuin dancers. Dance Series Two is rich in those moments where you stop watching the performance and are just carried by the energy. For that, this last offering of their 22nd season is worth taking in.

Photo credit: Keith Sutter

Cy Ashley Webb
Cy spent the ‘80’s as a bench scientist, the tech boom doing intellectual property law, and the first decade of the millennium, aspiring to be the world’s oldest grad student at Stanford where she is interested in political martyrdom. Presently, she enjoys writing for Stark Insider and the SF Examiner, hanging out at Palo Alto Children's Theatre, and participating in various political activities. Democracy is not a spectator sport! Cy is a SFBATCC member.