Song to the body beautiful
Providing a sweetly diverse program of short works, Smuin presented their Dance Series 01 at the Lesher Center for the Arts this past weekend. The company is also scheduled to perform at San Francisco, the South Bay and Monterey venues.
The program included three works: Indigo, choreographed by Stanton Welch to the music of Vivaldi; Michael Smuin’s classic work eulogizing the September 11 attacks on the Twin Towers, Stabat Mater, set to Dvorak; and a world premiere of Madness, Rack and Honey, choreographed by Garrett Ammon and set to Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Viola and Orchestra.
Ammon has been the artistic director of Wonderbound since 2007. The Denver–based dance company takes traditional ballet forms and combines them with rock-and-roll and multimedia. Collaborating with a host of other art practitioners is high on its events list. The mindset fits in well with the re-emerging Bay Area dance company, which seems to be slowly shedding the identity of its founder. Although Madness, Rack and Honey is lean on the special effects, and that’s a good thing in this case, its emphasis on movement, fast and flighty, is a true delight.
The dancers, dressed in garb that could be found on a Guys and Dolls set and resplendent in hues of silver and gray, pace out playful narratives of the battle between the sexes. Led by dancers Erica Felsch and Benjamin Warner, five sets of couples fly through tricky duets and energetic ensembles. There’s a whole lot of swapping of derby hats and pilfering of tweed caps, flexed feet and bent knees, sexy provocations, waggling bottoms and hands cupping exquisitely formed chins. But make no mistake, the light-hearted pleasure is assembled with intricate care, and it fits the company like a well-worn slipper.
Welch’s Indigo opened the program. This was the Australian choreographer’s first commission from the Houston Ballet, where it premiered in 1999. Welch is the current director of the Houston Ballet. Set to a cello concertos, the dance has many of the quirky movement qualities found in Mark Morris’ work, although the piece is done en pointe, and thereby grounds itself firmly in ballet. The work opens with four ballerinas in symmetrical formation, a male dancer enters to perform a short duet with one of the women before receding into the shadows of the darkened upstage. This motif is repeated several times with the eventual joining of more men so that the entire ensemble of four couples is on stage. Erin Yarbrough-Powell and Ben Needham-Wood led the ensemble and shone in their mutual athleticism.
Erica Chipp and Robert Kretz led the ensemble in Michael Smuin’s solemn narrative of loss and sorrow. More than the other pieces in the program, Stabat Mater tells a story in lyrical and measured steps. The central image was an abstracted almost gestural move from a funeral of a New York fireman. Smuin is recorded as saying, “at one point this woman, downstage right as it were, lifted her head and fainted smack backwards and the guy caught her at the last moment.” This is one of the repeated movements at the piece’s beginning. The piece ends with the lead ballerina, downstage, looking out over the audience, her face illuminated and upward turning. A statement of endurance and hope.
– Jaime Robles
The program will be presented in San Francisco September 29–October 2 at the Palace of Fine Arts. For information and tickets visit smuinballet.org.
Photo: Smuin dancers (l to r) Rex Wheeler and Terez Dean in the world premiere of Garrett Ammon’s Madness, Rack, and Honey. Photo by Chris Hardy.