Dd Preview: The Positive Evolution of Smuin Ballet

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While in conversation with a couple dancers from San Francisco’s Smuin Ballet, Susan Roemer and Shannon Hurlburt, I was reminded of the recent and poignant ending of the Merce Cunningham Company following the death of Mr. Cunningham. A company comes to a fork in the road when the patriarch and namesake passes on: let go to the left, or carry on to the right. In the case of Smuin Ballet, Hurlburt prefers to use the term “positive evolution” to describe the company’s journey from Mr. Smuin’s passing in 2007 to the mixed bill being presented next week at the Joyce Theater.

Trey McIntyre’s Oh, Inverted World. Photo by David Allen.

Artistic and Executive Director Celia Fushille acknowledges that the company “could not survive as a museum company showing exclusively Michael’s works” and so a year after his death she brought Amy Seiwert on as Choreographer-in-Residence and began to seek out other choreographers to broaden the company’s repertoire. The Joyce program will give audiences the chance to experience the current range of the company as it presents the past, Michael Smuin’s Medea, alongside the present, Amy Seiwert’s Soon These Two Worlds with music by the Kronos Quartet, and Trey McIntyre’s Oh, Inverted World with music by indie-rock band The Shins.

Michael Smuin’s Medea. Photo by Marty Sohl.

While pushing for the new, Fushille has also been lauded by her dancers for her careful and individual approach to Smuin’s work. The company is a mix of those who worked under Smuin, such as Hurlburt, and those who have grown to know him through his works, such as Roemer. According to Hurlburt, the challenge in remounting Smuin’s choreography is due to the creative liberty he gave to his dancers, “do we make new dancers perform a role as we see it on video or do we allow the the same license as Michael may have done?” As for Roemer, she has found satisfaction in “the freedom that Celia allows me to experience in the process. Taking in to account all of the notes and cues that he [Smuin] specifically imparted (which are often included in his detailed scores and sketches, or directly from Celia, who created many of the roles that I dance now), I feel that she trusts me to bring my authentic self to the work and encourages the development of that character or role.”

Amy Seiwert’s Soon These Two Worlds. Photo by Scott Goodman.

With Seiwert in house, Hurlburt feels “innovative work” is being brought to the company by a choreographer who was  “influenced by Michael here and there, but [she] clearly has always had her own voice.” Roemer further explains that Seiwert’s “appreciation for choreographic opportunities while still a dancer at Smuin Ballet has led her to encourage others in the same exploration. Currently, Smuin Ballet has held three choreographic workshops for dancers to dabble in the process of choreographing.” As to the future, it seems the groundwork for continued transformation and spirited preservation has been laid.

Smuin Ballet
The Joyce Theater
Mon-Tue 7:30pm; Wed 2pm & 7:30pm; Thu-Fri 8pm; Sat 2pm & 8pm.

Click here for tickets.


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