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.
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