Tag Archives: Terez Dean

Smuin opens 25th season with a winner

Smuin dancers in Ben Needham-Wood’s “Echo” — photo by Keith Sutter

That Smuin Contemporary Ballet is celebrating its 25th Anniversary season is a testament to so many things. To its founder, Michael Smuin, who died suddenly in 2007 while teaching a company class, weeks before a spring performance. To the company members who decided, in the spirit of their founder, that “we’ve still got a show to put on,” and went on to do just that, and do it well. To artistic director Celia Fushille, who has worked tirelessly since then to carry on Smuin’s vision and mission, cultivating a troupe of lively, engaged, talented dancers willing to work hard, embrace a diversity of dance styles, push boundaries, explore innovation, all while honoring the roots of classicism. It’s a mix that holds great appeal to audiences, and in this era of struggling arts organizations, one thing is certain: Smuin Contemporary Ballet has only grown stronger and better through its 25 years.

Five new dancers, two visiting artists and an apprentice have brought the company’s roster to nineteen dancers, and what is notable is how well they all blend as a company. Over and over I marveled at the pleasing synchronicity, not just in the steps but in the dancers’ intention. They looked polished and well-rehearsed on Saturday’s matinee performance. In a poignant touch, the program opened with Michael Smuin’s 2007 Schubert Scherzo, the ballet that premiered just weeks after his unexpected death. It’s a lovely neoclassical affair set to the third movement of Schubert’s Symphony No. 9 in C major. Nicole Haskins and Max van der Sterre were Saturday afternoon’s lead couple, back by an ensemble of 8 dancers. It was here the cohesive element charmed me: five couples executing partnered pirouettes in perfect unison, no small feat. Later, too, the five male dancers jumped and leapt as one. As the lead couple, Haskins and van der Sterre delivered strong dancing with an easy grace. Maggie Carey, dancing later with Robert Kretz, had impressively soft, silent landings to her leaps and jumps. All five females offered  photo-perfect unison attitude turns. Smuin’s 1969 The Eternal Idol followed, a tribute to Rodin, a romantic pas de deux bathed in golden lighting. Set to the “Larghetto” movement of Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2, it was sensitively executed by Terez Dean and Ben Needham-Wood, who arose as if from a sculpture, in skin-toned unitards, to intertwine and spin and stretch into languorous poses.

Peter Kurta, Erica Felsch, “The Eternal Idol” – photo, Keith Sutter

Fostering new choreographic talent from within the company was important to Michael Smuin, and Celia Fushille has carried on the legacy. The Choreography Showcase, first presented in 2008, allows aspiring choreographers among the dancers to explore and set their work on their fellow dancers. Featured in Saturday’s program were three such works, developed in 2016’s Choreography Showcase, by Rex Wheeler, Ben Needham-Wood and Nicole Haskins, respectively. Wheeler (since retired from Smuin) offered Sinfonietta, an engaging neoclassic work set to the music of Boris Tchaikovsky (no relation to the master). Susan Roemer’s costumes of white chiffon skirts and bodices with swaths of pale yellow-meets-green (men in similarly colored unitards) brought the “lovely” factor up even higher, emphasizing the expansive, flowing movements from the ten dancers, Wheeler’s efficient use of the stage space, too, added to the work’s artfulness. Notably good were Mengjun Chen (through the entire program), and lead couple Lauren Pschirrer and Max van der Sterre.

Tess Lane and Mattia Pallozzi in “Sinfonietta” – photo by Keith Sutter

In Echo (formerly titled Reflection), Ben Needham-Wood offered narrative invention, as the ballet opened with its spotlight on a bare-chested dancer in white slacks (Peter Kurta), representing Narcissus, of the Echo and Narcissus myth. A turntable beneath him was slowly rotated by five dancers in indigo blue (think: the sea). Valerie Harmon, as Echo, joined him on the turntable in what surely was a tricky balancing act of a pas de deux. Set to music by Nicholas Britell, this ballet brought movement, emotion and lyrical dancing from lead couple and ensemble alike, its ending repeating the beginning, like, fittingly, an echo.

Nicole Haskins’ Merely Players offered more contemporary fare with a jolt of indie-pop music, selections by Vampire Weekend, Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver. Reminiscent of the choreography of Amy Seiwert and Twyla Tharp, the dancing from the ten-dancer cast was joyous, playful, quick-moving.

The program concluded superbly with Trey McIntyre’s Blue Till June, his fourth work for the company since 2010. Watching the vivid, endlessly inventive, entertaining choreography served to remind me what a master he is. The opener is dramatic: smoke, red overhead lighting, a dancer (Nicole Haskins) seemingly hewn from rock, cactus arms pointing up, looking like a Polynesian goddess. Rocks surround her as the music swells. Then, in the blink of an eye, she steps forward, and the rocks—dancers hidden beneath rock-colored cloth—roll away swiftly. It was so not what I expected to see, executed so efficiently, that I knew right away I was in for a rollicking good ride with McIntyre’s Blue Till June, created in 2000 for the Washington Ballet.

Haskins in her solo dancing was fierce, angular, proudly defiant. Smuin would have loved McIntyre’s choreography, the way it showed Smuin dancers at their finest, all high energy, high level of artistry, mixed with a certain rebel nature that seemed to define Michael Smuin as well. The soulful, power-infused ballads of Etta James provided the music. Her laments about love and life were an apt counterbalance to the humor and irony McIntyre injected into his work. One movement flowed into the next, like life, from high to low, despondent to energetic, casual to sharply precise, often with a whimsical or comic flair, even as the dancer maintained a serious expression. Erica Felsch was laugh-out-loud entertaining as a dancer rigidly opposing the intents of an amorous Robert Kretz. Their pas de deux, and its ending, was sublime. An ensemble of five delivered their number with slumped shoulders, a zombie demeanor, with an energetic counterattack. Ben Needham-Wood’s “One for my Baby” all but stole the show. Ian Buchanan and Peter Kurta offered an affecting, unconventional pas de deux, and Terez Dean and Ben Needham-Wood brought the ballet to a satisfying close.

These dancers are powerhouses. Not once did I ever see a sign of fatigue, although they had to have been damned exhausted by the end of the program. Not the audience. We left, happy and energized by yet another successful Smuin program. I think it’s safe to say the company’s 25thanniversary season is off to a fine start, indeed.


Smuin Ballet goes untamed


Untamed. Uncorked. Unlaced. The Smuin Ballet wins the prize for coming up with the cleverest titles for its season’s dance series. Last year, the company’s 20th anniversary season, they presented their audiences with XXtremes,  XXmas and XXcentric. (Get it? XX=20?) I particularly like this season’s holiday performance series name, “Uncorked.” Does that sound like a party or what? 

Last weekend the Smuin Ballet opened its 21st season at San Francisco’s Palace of the Fine Arts Theatre with its “Untamed” Dance Series. The image above describes it perfectly: this beautiful, elegant ballet dancer in costume, hair corralled into a bun, executing a precise arabesque en pointe, while her shadow has morphed into a wild, untamed thing.

Welcome to Smuin Ballet, where the two find an equal fit.

Ben Needham-Wood and Terez Dean in "Serenade for Strings" Photo by Keith Sutter

Ben Needham-Wood and Terez Dean in “Serenade for Strings” Photo by Keith Sutter

You can read my review of the Friday, Oct 3, 2014 performance at Bachtrack. (http://us.bachtrack.com/review-smuin-ballet-untemed-series-palace-of-fine-arts-san-francisco-october-2014) I tried to think about what highlights I could mention here, which of the three ballets offered I liked especially. Turns out I liked them all. Artistic director Celia Fushille programmed this series well. Here’s what we saw:

  •  The West Coast premiere of “Serenade for Strings” choreographed by Garrett Ammon, artistic director of Colorado-based Wonderbound, set to Tchaikovsky’s score of the same name.
  • “Objects of Curiosity,” choreographed by Amy Seiwert (Smuin Ballet’s choreographer-in-residence), set to collaborated music by Philip Glass and Foday Musa Suso.
  •  “Frankie & Johnny,” choreographed by Michael Smuin, music featuring a compilation of Cuban and Latin American musicians. (NOTE: this ballet contains material that is intended for mature audiences. Which means, it’s seriously untamed. Which I seriously enjoyed.)


Sarah Nyfield and Robert Moore in "Serenade for Strings." Photo: Keith Sutter.

Sarah Nyfield and Robert Moore in “Serenade for Strings.” Photo: Keith Sutter.

I love Tchaikovsky’s music and loved that “Serenade for Strings” was vastly different from Balanchine’s iconic Serenade, which uses the same music. And yet, the classicism at the core of the contemporary choreography was solid, and worked soooo well with the musical score. I greatly enjoyed “Objects of Curiosity” partly because I lived in Africa for two years and love African music, and much of this intelligent ballet featured music of the kora (an African harp) by Gambian kora master (and Griot and composer) Foday Musa Suso. I also liked that this ballet was performed en pointe, whereas “Serenade for Strings” had been off pointe (a “slipper” ballet). And as for “Frankie & Johnny,” well, dang, that was enormous fun to watch. Great dancing, great Cuban music, great theatricality. Very Smuin. Loved it.


Eduardo Permuy and Erin Yarbrough in "Frankie & Johnny," photo: Keith Sutter

Eduardo Permuy and Erin Yarbrough in “Frankie & Johnny,” photo: Keith Sutter

There are four newcomers to the company this year:  Sarah Nyfield, Dustin James, Kevin James (no relation) and Robert Moore. Great dancers. I didn’t notice Rachel Furst on the roster last fall, but there she is now, and looking great as well. I especially enjoyed watching performances by Dustin James and Sarah Nyfield, and some nice pas de deux work between Nyfield and Robert Moore. While we’re at it, I’ll shout out “nice job” to Erica Felsch, Joshua Reynolds, Terez Dean, Jonathan Powell, Erin Yarbrough and Eduardo Permuy (the latter two just nailed their Frankie and Johnny characters) and Jo-Ann Sundermeier. Actually, every one of the dancers I saw Friday night was wonderful. There is not a weak Smuin Ballet dancer in the company, certainly not one during Friday’s performance. Kudos to you all, and especially to artistic director, Celia Fushille. Well done, on every level of the game. Smuin Ballet seems to be growing stronger with each passing year – a real pleasure to observe.

The “Untamed” Dance Series plays tonight and tomorrow, October 11th, at San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts Theatre. Tickets ($24-$67) are available at www.smuinballet.org or (415) 912-1899. If you can’t make it, this program will also be presented in March 2015 in Walnut Creek,  Mountain View, and Carmel.

And if you’re new to “the world of Smuin” and would like to know more, check out my review from last year, where I offer a little background on the late Michael Smuin and his company. http://www.theclassicalgirl.com/smuin-the-other-san-francisco-ballet/


Smuin: the other San Francisco ballet

Carmina2_Keith Sutter_thumb 

Confession time: I didn’t know about the Smuin Ballet until just a few years ago. I knew Michael Smuin’s name from San Francisco Ballet lore, where he’d been a principal dancer, a choreographer, a co-director from 1973 until Helgi Tomasson’s arrival in July 1985.  Smuin founded his own company nine years later, by which time he’d also choreographed numerous Broadway shows and movies, winning an Emmy in 1984 and a Tony Award in 1988, while setting work on the Dance Theater of Harlem, the Washington Ballet, the Pacific Northwest Ballet and others, as well. For his own company, Smuin, never afraid to be eclectic, theatrical,  appeal to broad audiences, wanted a troupe that was small, innovative and crackling with energy. He succeeded. I can only imagine how his death in 2007, at age 68, was a blow to company members, audiences, and the dance world alike.

I’d heard that Smuin Ballet had a strong local following. Having finally seen them, in the October 5th performance of their latest, “XXtremes Dance Series,” celebrating their 20th anniversary season, I now understand why. A troupe of only eighteen dancers, these guys rock.

I wrote a review of their Saturday matinee performance, part of a fun new gig for me as a dance reviewer for Bachtrack.com. I’d love it if you gave it a peek. http://www.bachtrack.com/reviews/view/3438

But since you showed up at this site looking for entertainment, I’ll offer you pics and summaries. Sound fair? (Photo credits: Keith Sutter, David DaSilva)

Ballet #1: Dear Miss Cline, set to songs by 1950’s country-pop legend, Patsy Cline. An energetic romp of a ballet, complete with crinoline-skirted costumes and flirtatious exchanges and some great partnering work.

Dear Miss Cline by David DeSilva6_thumb      Dear Miss Cline 1_David DeSilva_thumb

Ballet #2: Jirí Kylián’s irresistible Return to a Strange Land. All the hype about Kylián is right on. This ballet was created in 1974 and dedicated to the legacy and memory of his beloved mentor John Cranko, who’d just died. Love, loss, longing  are all rendered in soulful, sensuous fashion. His work is so renown in the dance world, so fascinating to me, that I think I’m going to have to save any further elaboration for a blog of its own.

Kylian 3_Keith Sutter_thumb     Kylian 5_Keith Sutter_thumb

Ballet #3: Michael Smuin’s acclaimed Carmina Burana, featuring the über-dramatic music of 20th century composer Carl Orff, cinematic lighting, curlicues of fog billowing from the wings, vibrant unitard costumes, passionate, exuberant exchanges and movements in twenty-two vignettes. A hell of a show.

Carmina1_Keith Sutter_thumb           Carmina3_Keith Sutter

All the Smuin Ballet company members are strong, energetic, and wonderfully talented. Here are a few I particularly enjoyed watching: Jane Rehm, Terez Dean, Pauli Magierek, Erica Felsch, Jo-Ann Sundermeier (the latter three having stepped in, mid-performance, to replace an injured Nicole Haskins in the third ballet, an astonishing feat all the more impressive in its un-noticeability), Jonathan Dummar, Aidan DeYoung, Weston Krukow, Eduardo Permuy, Joshua Reynolds and Christian Squires.

Okay, that was a tease, and this is where you hurry on over to my full review at Bachtrack. (http://www.bachtrack.com/reviews/view/3438) Check it out and I’ll send kisses your way. Post a comment there on how great the review is, and I’ll make them chocolate kisses.

I’ll end with just a nub of that review.

It seems to me that a lot of people go to the San Francisco Ballet because they enjoy the ritual of “going to the ballet.” People go to the Smuin Ballet, I will venture to say, because they love dance. They love watching the art. They love the Smuin Ballet because the venue and the program are family-friendly, “come as you are” friendly. The dancers pour their heart, soul, craft and considerable talent into every movement. It’s a thrill to discover this local treasure.

Move over, San Francisco Ballet. There’s another pretty girl in town.

Things to know about Smuin Ballet’s “XXtremes” Dance Series  

  • Where: Palace of Fine Arts Theatre, 3301 Lyon St., San Francisco.
  • When: now through Saturday, October 12, 2013.
  • Why: Because live Kylián performances are rare in the Bay Area and Return to a Strange Land is good enough to seek out, as is the Smuin Ballet’s performance of it.
  • Tickets: $25 to $72
  • Contact: (415) 912-1899, www.smuinballet.org
  • And if you can’t make these dates: the program repeats in March in Walnut Creek and Mountain View.