Smuin Contemporary Ballet

Smuin Contemporary Ballet
Dance Series 2
Friday, May 10, 2024
Yerba Buena Center, San Francisco

Amy Seiwert has now become the Artistic Director of the Smuin Ballet, succeeding Cecelia Fushille. Both welcomed the audience to the 24/25 season of the company, a season that will continue this spring, 2024, in Walnut Creek, Mountain View and Carmel. The dancers in the company are very strong, skilled and exuberant performers.

Seiwert’s work “Broken Open” had its world premiere on September 18, 2015 (so the program notes). She brings attention to several dancers who have helped bring the work to its current realization, which is lively, complex and brilliantly danced. To music by Julia Kent, colorfully costumed by Sandra Woodall, “Broken Open” is a complex series of events, group work, solos, duets and a men’s trio, all performed at a lively pace and with superb skill. It may even be too much for the general audience.

Tupeolo Turnado” (World Premiere, May 3, 2024) is a lively, “over the top” tribute to the ‘king of rock and roll” Elvis Presley. The choreographer, Annabelle Lopez Orchoa notes that Presley “succumbs to the weight of fame.” The event is a first-class audience pleaser with costumes boy Susan Roemer and amazing scenic design and lighting by Alexander V. Nichols. But it is the portrayal of Presley that dominates the event, although there are brilliant performances by several company soloists (alas their names are not noted in the program)! Wearing a ‘mock’ TV screen over his eyes, the leading soloist (Presley) delivers dance to accompany the songs, funny, satirical and always moving. One soloist’s performance is almost entirely on the floor and is very touching and emotionally moving. The audience (who may or may not remember Presley’s genius) wants to break out singing. (I did on the way home).

Smuin’s “StarShadows” which opened the evening was a nostalgic memory of Smuin’s ‘cool’ dance work. Alas, in contrast to contemporary ballet, it remains a ‘night-club’ work. “Untwine” by Brennan Wall, which followed to selections from Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” had some wonderful solo and duet interludes (for three couples), but again was not innovative in its choreographic invention.

The taped music throughout the evening, alas, did not justice to the scores.

Congratulations to the Smuin Ballet for its innovative programming, choreography and most of all brilliant dancing throughout. It should bring delight in all future events.


Mark Morris – Via Dolorosa, Socrates

Mark Morris Dance Group
Cal Performances Zellerbach Hall
April 19, 2024

Via Dolorosa”(2024 World Premiere)

Mark Morris has, for many years now, brought his dance company to Cal Performances every year. Audiences have delighted in the complexity of the technical ability displayed by the company’s dancers, the music choices and usually, the inventive choreography. This ‘premiere’ and the other work on the program “Socrates” were disappointing in several ways…although the dancers themselves were marvelous.

Via Dolorosa” attempts to present the last days of Christ (based on texts by Alice Goodman), with music by Nico Muhly (The Street:14 Meditations on the Stations of the Cross). It is an enormous dramatic challenge…(especially three days before the celebration of the Passover 5784). For many in the audience it is an unknown drama in the detail that Morris and Goodman have chosen to portray.

Costumed in rather shapeless tunics, the nine dancers present the various episodes leading to Christ’s death. (Alas, there is no Resurrection). The movement vocabulary looks simple in its technical challenge… yet the continual rearrangement of groupings and the choice of ‘outstanding’ figures and their representation are continually changing. The dancers adapt to all this beautifully. The harp music by Nico Muhly is played by Parker Ramsey.

A sacred environment is produced by the choreographic episodes staged before a colorful back scenic design by Howard Hodgkin. All this is excellent in concept and choreographic execution, and/but the scenes, the music and the dance events move slowly. We, the audience has just experienced “Socrate” the 2010 Morris work on the program. As much as we admire the libretto, the choreographic events and the skill of the dancers, “Via Dolorosa,” with its awe and religious references, becomes a challenging event for the audience.

Socrate” (2010) which opened the evening’s program to music by Satie, was danced by fifteen members of the Dance Group. It was dramatically effective though also slow. Played on the piano by Colin Fowles and sung by Brian Giebler, tenor, before a set, part white, part black, not always visually pleasing.

Congratulations to the wonderful dancers. Their ensemble ability is fabulous as is the technical ability of all. Not a sound is heard when they leap and jump; their exits and entrances (which are continuous throughout both pieces) are flawless. Hopefully, this company will return as in the past with m lively and joyful choreography.


San Francisco Ballet: Dos Mujeres

San Francisco Ballet
April 4, 2024
Dos Mujeres
San Francisco Opera House

Women Choreographers: Women’s Stories in Dance

An inventive and unusual evening of choreography was presented by San Frncisco Ballet with the “World Premiere” of “Carmen,” choreography by Arielle Smith to music by Arturo O’Farrill. The four principal dancers were (Carmen) Sasha De Sola, (Jose) Joseph Walsh, (Escamillo, A Chef) Jennifer Stahl and (Gilberto) Wei Wang. Moving away from the well-known Bizet opera, Smith notes that, “the story of Carmen, (is of) a strong and feisty woman who craves love and independence without the traps of obsession or jealousy.” In a restaurant setting, a long counter and a table, Carmen and her chef embrace one another, rejecting (and on occasion accepting) the others, two men. The ballet becomes a very dramatic series of encounters between these characters. Yet despite wonderful gesture and dramatic use of space , the story is not always clear. It might well become a play with dialogue to explain and expand these relationships and Carmen’s drama.

To the delight of the audience and the ballet world, “Broken Wings” tells Frida Kahlo’s story with reproductions of her fantastic images (on stage and in the house) to illustrate and portray this fabled woman artist. Choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa notes, “She (Kahlo) was an artist, and yet she was an advocate the rights of the Mexican people that were under the influence of the Spaniards. That’s what I like about her…”

The ballet features Isabella Devivo (as Kahlo), John-Paul Simoens (Alfonso), Cavan (Conley) and (Christina) Sasha Mukhadov. Kahlo’s visions are represented as skeletons, birds, a female deer and a group of “male Fridas.” The scenes come and go in great succession, Kahlo abandoned and accompanied in various parts of the ballet by her visions. “Broken Wings” becomes an elaborate fantasy of color, characters, music (by Peter Salem) and song, (“La Llorona” sung by Chavela Vargas). The principals dancers, Devivo, Simoens, Conley and Mukkamedov all give extradorinaiy performances although Isabella Devivo outshines them all. She is small in stature but extraordinarily skilled in technique and projection.

The stage and house are full of gorgeous Kahlo images. Orchoa adds, “I am a Latina woman giving something back to the Latin culture and the Latin people of San Francisco who will feel represented in ballet.”

BRAVA and Bravo to all the artists who created and performed “Broken Wings.