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  • Writer's pictureJen Norris

Review: SMUIN Contemporary Ballet, Dance Series 2: 2022-23 Season, YBCA Theater, May 5 – 14, 2023

Updated: May 9, 2023

Sashay, jete or skip your way to SMUIN Contemporary Ballet’s (SMUIN) Dance Series 2 now playing through Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 14, at the Blue Shield of California Theater at the Yerba Buena Center of the Arts, with additional performances at the Mountain View Performing Arts Center May 25 through 28. The title Dance Series 2 is the only thing drab thing about this program.

Artistic Director, Celia Fushille has paired four ballets which offer snapshots of all that contemporary ballet has to offer. Whether performing a heartfelt revival of Michael Smuin’s romantic duet Dream (1999), or the fast-paced intricacies of Val Caniparoli’s Swipe (2011/2012), these dancers transport us to emotionally-rich and vibrant places.

Performed to a selection of Baroque orchestral pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach,

Katarzyna Skarpetowska’s Sextette, created in 2021 for the National Choreographers Initiative, is new to the SMUIN repertoire. While not particularly memorable overall, the pairing of Maggie Carey and Brandon Alexander shone especially brightly in this piece. They brought out the best in each other with confident partnering and assured grace.

Fushille, one of the piece's original cast members, has set Smuin’s Dream, on three couples, who alternate performances. I had the privilege of seeing Brennan Wall and Ricardo Dyer bring this starry-eyed story to life. Alone onstage Wall’s expressions and gestures communicate her anticipatory happiness in the arrival or return of her first-love. Dyer’s arrival lifts her literally to new heights. Smoothing her hair, kissing her neck, his is a tender passion. I appreciated with what steady control he places her on her toes after a dip or a lift, his face radiating contented joy as she leans her head against his chest. I wish I could see the other pairings because this one seemed just right.

Swipe is a tour de force for seven dancers, requiring precision, speed and agility. Whether thrusting their chests to the sky arms and legs spread wide in a series of arching unison jumps or matching the sharp lines and angles of each other’s arms, the dancers meet the challenge at every turn. Costumer Sandra Woodall’s somber-toned streetwear, along with the electronic hip-hop beats intermingled with contemporary string quartet of Gabriel Prokofiev, bring a modern-day vibe.

SMUIN Contemporary Ballet dancers performing in Val Caniparoli's Swipe; Photo credit: Chris Hardy

Caniparoli’s dancers perform feats of amazement one moment and stroll casually away the next. The pacing is fascinating as he uses pauses and held poses between sections of flashing footwork. The most-memorable section is a quartet for four men. The dancers’ athleticism is on full display as they seemingly fly chest parallel to the ground having risen from planked positions, their torsos supported by their arms. The section ends with the foursome advancing on the audience as a swift kicking line with speed and agility. While the duet and ensemble sections which follow are strong, the piece could have ended with the men.

Amy Seiwert’s premiere “French Kiss,” features fifteen dancers. It makes for a swinging, swaggering sassy third act. Seiwert enjoys creating choreographic challenges for herself and others. Her premieres are highly anticipated because they so often break new ground.

For “French Kiss” it seems as if she may have tasked herself with creating pieces in which a soloist shines against the backdrop of ensemble performers. Seiwert frequently choreographs to music with lyrics. Last season SMUIN revived “Dear Miss Cline,” her tribute to country singer Patsy Cline. This time round Seiwert has chosen to set her dances to an eclectic selection of French pop songs performed by Pink Martini.

SMUIN Contemporary Ballet dancers performing in Amy Seiwert's French Kiss; Photo credit: Chris Hardy

Highlighted in bright clear followspots and dressed in assorted pastels, the dancers pop out against Jim French’s subdued backdrops. The fifties daywear silhouettes include short-sleeved shirts and pants for the men and collared-dresses with below the knees skirts by Susan Roemer. Seiwert doesn’t shy away from a good prop. “French Kiss” features not only a rainy-day umbrella number, in which Terez Dean Orr steals our hearts, but also a poignant comic duet for Cassidy Isaacson and Yuri Rogers whose charms must be experienced in person. It’s like the cast of a mid-century teen film wandered into a French cabaret.

Might I have enjoyed this piece more if I understood the lyrics? Perhaps, but that’s a small quibble. These dancers are masterful, easily flexing from classical ballet vocabulary to contemporary movement and even musical comedy. Whether you are taking your family for a Mother’s Day or Memorial Day weekend outing or have a special date night planned, SMUIN Contemporary Ballet has just the show for you!

Review by Jen Norris of the May 5, 2023 performance. Published 5/8/23; 5/9 revised for typo.


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