Smuin 30

Smuin 30
Feb. 29, 2024 7:30. pm
Yerba Buena Center
San Francisco,CA

Ballet as ‘show-biz

Michael Smuin was founder of his company and director for thirteen years. Now the company is still going strong after 30 years, says Celia Fuschille, current artistic director. Smuin emphasized ‘entertainment, “to mix the popular with the classical.” Celebrating the company’s 30th years, this event, “Celebration Smuin” accomplishes that..providing a ‘story’ ballet (Zorro!), and another work set to songs by Sinatra. (“Fly me to the Moon.”)

Zorro! (world premiere) goes on for eleven scenes during which we watch the emergence of a young (movie) usher, Emilio, who is bullied by his boss, and eventually emerges as a brave swordsman and lover with the help of the famous Zorro! The name of the film playing at the theater is Zorro!, so that no less than three Zerro’s help Emilio learn bravery and swordsmanship. All this is accomplished with the assistance of the movie audience the ballerinas who participate in the chorus. Lively and charming as it is, it does go on too long and has many complex (but exciting) incidents to follow. The choreography as all this and ‘classical’ ballet steps and patterns.. I believe that Marc Lapierre played Emilio: he and all the Zorros displayed amazing skill and drama.

Fly Me To The Moon” to well-known Sinatra songs is easier to follow since each is a unique event, for solos, duets and the group. The movement vocabulary entails mime, ’show-biz’ wiggles and even a short foray into tap dancing. The dancers are all very accomplished…and (but) the ‘classical’ ballet technique is sometimes awkward as the vocabulary for this entertainment. As the program notes indicate, this was Smuin’s intention: to make classical ballet ‘entertainment’. The performers are all ‘top-notch’ and/but this reviewer longed to free them from toe shoes and the formality that classical ballet demands, to let them sing and dance and really bring us ‘show-biz’.

The Rite of Spring

common ground(s)* The Rite of Spring
Zellerbach Hall UC Berkeley
Friday, February 16, 2024 8 PM
Sunday, February 18, 2024 3 PM

École des Sables: dancing the work of Pina Bausch

This event was danced by “a specially recruited ensemble”, and for first time performed by dancers from African countries. Germaine Acogny, co-founder of the ´Ecole des Sables, Senegal, is quoted, saying… “When I first saw Pina’s “Rite of Spring,” I felt it was an African rite.” As if to further the African environment the stage is ‘prepared’ for the dancers by covering the floorboard with ‘peat’. Several stagehands with carts fill the stage with earthen ‘dirt’, smoothing the surface so that it can become a dance floor. It was an event worth watching. The working crew got resounding applause.

After extensive selection and workshops in Senegal, 38 of the 137 applicants were chosen. About an earlier work (seen by Acogny in Berart’s production), she says, “It felt like a primitive rite… and there were even elements of traditional African dance in his (Bejart’s) production.

The dancers are all amazing, skilled, fused as ensembles with perfect timing. There is a woman’s group (about 17 dancers) and a men’s group of the same size. Two ‘solo’ figures emerge…one who (as a priest figure) and one (as the sacrifice) who dominate the final moments of the work. Alas, the program listed all the dancers’ names but did not name the soloists!

And what a work it is! Both, all the group’s movements are superbly synchronized, so that the force of each group’s leaps, jumps, turns and frantic arm gestures become powerful forces. The women mRite of Springove as a group but often, one by one, leave the group to address, comfort and echo the ‘sacrificial’ chosen one. There are wild open arm and hand gestures, twists and bends…and a range of movement not often seen in any ballet.

Opening the evening Germaine Agony and Malou Airaudo, (directors of the company), danced a quiet retrospective piece to music by Fabrice Bouillon LaForest. The dance was a duet of ‘remembrance’ and gentle interaction between these powerful but aging dancers. Audience members understood their need to perform and be introduced, but the work itself is too long, without dynamics and for many, a poor opening for an otherwise exiting dynamic performance event.Rite of Spring

Pina Bausch’s “Rite of Spring” is an amazing response to the famous Stravinsky score. Although the riots it produced in 1913 will not be repeated a hundred years later, still, this production by ´Ecole des Sables deserves tumultuous applause. Bravo all!

San Francisco Ballet: British Icons

San Francisco Ballet
February, 9 & 10, 2024
Opera House San Francisco

“British Icons”

Artistic Director Tamara Rojo, who was formerly with the English Ballet (and is listed in the program as responsible for “Principal Coaching,” has brought two “British Icons” to San Francisco. Following the company’s opening with the complexity of ‘Mere Mortals,” these ballets offered comprehensible drama and brilliant dancing.

“Song of the Earth” (to sung music by Gustav Mahler), was premiered in 1965 in Germany and is in the repertory of the Royal Ballet. Now the work is at San Francisco. Martin West, music director of San Franciso Ballet, tells us that Mahler’s work is not often played for ballet. He says, “McMillian ( Sir Kenneth McMillan, choreographer) was able to illuminate further the full range of emotions that Mahler set out to convey…”

The principal dancers for the Mahler work have a tremendous task for both endurance and expressivity since McMillan says the work is,  ”a man, a woman and death. Throughout the ballet you ‘sort of watch’ the woman through the cycle of her life.”

On February 9 the soloists were Wei Wang (The Messenger of Death), Isaac Hernancdez (Man) and Wona Park (Woman), well supported by the ensemble. On Saturday, Feb. 10 the cast was (Messenger) Esteban Hernandez, (Woman) Wona Park, (Man) Joseph Walsh. The singing was performed by tenor Moisas Salazar, and mezzo soprano Garielle Beteag, All were brilliant in this demanding but intriguing work,

What is intriguing in “Song’ is not only the interaction of the principals using dramatic gesture (hands to head, heart, and very intimate duets), but that the ‘movement’ is beyond the usual ballet vocabulary!. Fingers are spread wide; torsos are bent and twisted; and although there is plenty of the usual ballet ‘ensemble’, there is continual use of ‘pas de deux’ vocabulary that echos contemporary dance and theater. All the performers handle this with remarkable rhythmic precision and dance skill. Bravo!

We are graced with remarkable leaps and jumps from all the performers as well as unusual partnering (sometimes men with me). But it is the ‘dynamic flow’ of energy the the skillful ‘gesturing’ that makes “Song” so unusual for it time… and ours.

Although “Marguerite and Armand” a romantic episode (from a dramatic “Camille” theme,) to music by Franz Liszt, is well known in story and opera, choreographer Sir Frederick Ashton has here presented us with a setting of English court and club life. “Marguerite” is the mistress of ‘A Duke” (danced by Steven Morse) but she in enamored by Armond (Frederick Walsh). Although surrounded by ‘admirers”, it is her romantic involvement with Armond that is the ballet’s several essential ‘pas de duex.”

On Feb. 9 Misa Kuranaga danced Marguerite. On Saturday, the principal dancers were Yuan Yuan Tan (Marguerite) and Aaron Robinson (Armand). The San Francisco Ballet added the performance by Ms. Tan to celebrate her departure from the company on February 14. Both events were outstanding performances, although Ms. Tan’s was intensely dramatic as her passion (and her storied illness) overwhelmed the ballet.

It is pleasing and delightful to have the opportunity to see these works transformed by San Francisco Ballet by contemporary dancers. They have all met the challenged brilliantly. Ms Rojo offers extensive notes in the beautifully illustrated programs…but alas no cast lists are offered. One has to ‘photograph’ the (QR codes) and perhaps consult a cell phone. The performers deserve to be known before the lights go out. They deliver brilliant performances and audiences must give their applause to dancers that will be well remembered and honored in future ballet events.