Tag Archives: Trey McIntyre

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.

 

SFB’s Unbound: a Festival of New Works

Looking for The Classical Girl’s review of Program B? Here you go! www.bachtrack.com

Prepare yourself, dance world. San Francisco Ballet’s Unbound, a festival featuring twelve new works, is about to land in San Francisco. And it’s going to be big. An unprecedented, mind-expanding, creatively explosive extravaganza that includes the following:

  • Twelve internationally acclaimed choreographers
  • Four programs running through seventeen days
  • Twelve world premieres
  • Glorious, fresh, neoclassical ballet
  • Boldly inventive experimental ballet
  • Music that runs the gamut from classical to electronica
  • An affiliated symposium open to the public
  • Choreographer interviews and rehearsals archived to watch at your convenience

Curious about programs, dates, a sneak peek? You came to the right place! First the sneak peek…


Now onto the programs…

Program A
Sculpted space. Digital dependency. Classicism in sneakers. Three unique voices offer three distinct takes on where ballet’s headed. 

  • THE COLLECTIVE AGREEMENT – Choreographer: Alonzo King; Composer: Jason Moran
  • BOUND TO© – Choreographer: Christopher Wheeldon; Composer: Keaton Henson
  • HURRY UP, WE’RE DREAMING Choreographer: Justin Peck; Composers: Anthony Gonzalez, Yann Gonzalez, Bradley Laner, and Justin Meldal-Johnsen

Dates: Fri Apr 20, 8pm; Sun Apr 22, 2pm; Sat Apr 28, 8pm; Thu May 3, 7:30pm; Sun May 6, 2pm

Program B
Groupthink. Tragic passion. Opposing energy. Three innovative thinkers examine the ties that bind and the differences that distinguish.

  • OTHERNESS – Choreographer: Myles Thatcher; Composer: John Adams
  • SNOWBLIND – Choreographer: Cathy Marston; Composers: Amy Beach, Philip Feeney, Arthur Foote, and Arvo Pärt. Music Arranger: Philip Feeney
  • ANIMA ANIMUS – Choreographer: David Dawson; Composer: Ezio Bosso

Dates: Sat, Apr 21, 8pm; Wed, Apr 25, 7:30pm; Sun, Apr 29, 2pm; Fri, May 4, 8pm

Program C
The ephemeral in the eternal. Family heritage. Savage beauty. Three artists move forward while drawing from the past.

  • BESPOKE – Choreographer: Stanton Welch; Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach
  • YOUR FLESH SHALL BE A GREAT POEM – Choreographer: Trey McIntyre; Composer: Chris Garneau
  • GUERNICA – Choreographer: Annabelle Lopez Ochoa; Composers: Joe Andrews, Michel Banabila, Tom Halstead, and Charles Valentin-Alkan

Dates: Tue, Apr 24, 7:30pm; Fri, Apr 27, 8pm; Wed, May 2, 7:30pm; Sat, May 5, 2pm

Program D
The space between life and death. Passionate connectivity. The music of Björk. Three dancemakers evoke the spiritual connections that span life and death, the beauty and pain in relationships, and a surrealist dream ballet. 

  • THE INFINITE OCEAN – Choreographer: Edwaard Liang; Composer: Oliver Davis
  • LET’S BEGIN AT THE END – Choreographer: Dwight Rhoden; Composers: Johann Sebastian Bach, Philip Glass, and Michael Nyman
  • BJÖRK BALLET – Choreographer: Arthur Pita; Composers: Björk Gudmundsdottir and Sjón

Dates: Thu, Apr 26, 7:30pm; Sat, Apr 28, 2pm; Tue, May 1, 7:30pm; Sat, May 5, 8pm

Boundless: A Symposium on Ballet’s Future
Bringing together noted artists, scholars, and critics, this event provides an opportunity for discussion, debate, and collaboration about ballet in the 21st century.

Dates: April 27-29th. Details and times can be found HERE.

Unbound Live Highlights
Clips from past live stream productions that give you a behind-the-scenes look at the Unbound ballets being rehearsed, featuring interviews and excerpts of choreography.

Dates: Anytime, right HERE

Now. Ready to see some gorgeous dance films? Each one was inspired by a new work from Unbound. All are original short films that bear the name of their world premiere ballet.

Cathy Marston’s Snowblind

Snowblind “was inspired by Edith Wharton’s novella ‘Ethan Frome.'” Director: Mark Kohr; Choreographer: Cathy Marston; Producer: Jesus Peña; Music: 2 Piano Pieces, Op. 62, No. 2 Exaltation by Arthur Foote, Arranged by Philip Feeney; Director of Photography: Steve Condotti; Editor: Mark Kohr; Dancers: Mathilde Froustey, Sarah Van Patten, Ulrik Birkkjaer

Dwight Rhoden’s LET’S BEGIN AT THE END

LET’S BEGIN AT THE END  Director: Matthew Mckee; Choreographer: Dwight Rhoden; Producers: Christine Busby & Steve Condotti; Music: Michael Nyman; Director of Photography: Joe Lindsay; Editor: Matthew Mckee; Dancers: Frances Chung, Sasha De Sola, Jennifer Stahl, Ulrik Birkkjaer, Benjamin Freemantle, Angelo Greco, Esteban Hernandez

Alonzo King’s The Collective Agreement

The Collective Agreement Director: Kate Duhamel; Producer: Jesus Peña; Choreographer: Alonzo King; Music: “The Collective Agreement,” written, published, and performed by Jason Moran; Director of Photography: Jesse Eisenhardt; Editor: Kate Duhamel; Visual Effects Artist: Brandon McFarland; Dancers: Sofiane Sylve, Tiit Helimets, Max Cauthorn, Jahna Frantziskonis, James Sofranko, Anna Sophia Scheller, Solomon Golding

Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Guernica

Guernica “found inspiration in the art of Picasso.” Director: Kate Duhamel; Choreographer: Annabelle Lopez Ochoa; Music: “Jump Cuts” written, published, and performed by Michel Banabila; Director of Photography: Heath Orchard; Editor: Kate Duhamel; Visual Effects Artist: Brandon McFarland; Dancers: Dores Andre, Solomon Golding, Julia Rowe, Myles Thatcher

Tickets are going fast for this amazing event, so don’t wait too long! To check dates, pricing and availability online, go HERE. (Choose the program and dates you’re considering, and click on “tickets” in lower right hand of screen.) Otherwise you can call the San Francisco Ballet ticket office at (415) 865 2000, Monday through Friday, between 10 am and 4 pm, Pacific Time. (On performance nights, the phone lines will remain open until showtime.)

Hope to see you there!

Diablo Ballet is 24 years strong

Diablo Ballet has done it again, and the company has never looked better. Wait. Didn’t I say that last year? But it’s true—last Thursday’s anniversary gala performance seemed to be presenting Diablo Ballet at its strongest, its most versatile. The roster currently features ten dancers; in past years it’s been nine, and the addition of one allowed for this very cool quintet of couples ending the night’s performance in the Swan Lake Suite. But that’s jumping ahead. Let me back up.

Walnut Creek’s Lesher Center for the Performing Arts was the venue for the company’s 24th Anniversary Performance last week. An annual tradition, it’s like ballet’s version of a small-plate dining experience. No intermissions, instead a few minutes’ pause between every work. The dance pieces themselves are never overlong and leave one hungering for more, which soon follows. A welcome speech from artistic director Lauren Jonas, a charming slideshow chronicling the company’s community outreach PEEK program, accompanied by live music (Minor F Quartet from Oakland School for the Arts), and the audience was then treated to five works and one short film. Satisfying fare, indeed.

Jackie McConnell and Christian Squires in The Blue Boy. Photo by Bilha Sperling

Trey McIntyre’s “The Blue Boy,” is set to the second movement of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1, which is so elegant and beautiful, it adds a velvet veneer to the sharp, articulated passages in this classically-based work. The title refers to the famous 18th century Gainsborough portrait (you’ve seen it before, trust me). Christian Squires met every challenge McIntyre’s fast-moving choreography flung his way. Amanda Farris joined him, lyrical and with lovely soft landings. Jackie McConnell was a strong player, too, as the trio danced their way through partnered lifts, turns and playful quirks.

After Rosselyn Ramirez’ impassioned solo in Salvador Aiello’s Solas, a piece that spoke of loss, rage, sorrow, aided by Jack Carpenter’s moody lighting, Sonya Delwaide’s Trait d’union took to the stage. Set to Gabriel Fauré’s “Élégie,” the choreography is inventive and distinctive, with elegant lines. In the opener, Felipe Leon’s tilt, nearly falling into Alex McCleery, commenced the piece with great, creative energy. Arms were flung out, movements expansive. At one point, Leon leapt, caught midair by McCleery. Very impressive, as was the duo’s chemistry, their absorbed interaction. Here, too, Jackie McConnell was a strong third member to this pas de trois. Andres Vera’s cello and Robert Mollicone’s piano added a nuanced depth to the equation. Delwaide’s choreography finds that sweet spot I so love, of classical-meets-contemporary. (I blogged about her 2015 Serenade Pour Cords de Corps HERE.)

Alex McCleery, Jackie McConnell and Felipe Leon – Trait d’union. Photo by Bilha Sperling

Resident choreographer and Post:Ballet artistic director Robert Dekkers’ work always fascinates, and “Sixes and Seven” is no exception. It’s set to Philip Glass’s music—a choral piece with overlapping speech—and featured solo work by Christian Squires, who impresses me more each time I watch him dance. His total commitment to the role, the perfect timing of pauses, taps, spins, were fascinating to watch. The idiomatic term, “at sixes and sevens” can be translated as “in a state of disarray and confusion.” Was this Dekkers’ intent? (Certainly the music, with the quirky voice overlay, contributed.) You be the judge. Following is an excerpt from an earlier performance that features Squires and a second dancer, Jessica Collado. Susan Roemer’s costume (yes, they are wearing something) makes its own stunning statement (which would be: wow, what beautiful bodies – and ditto for Squires in his performance last week).

Sixes and Seven (excerpts, 2014) from Post:Ballet on Vimeo.

The night’s performance ended on a high note with selections from Swan Lake — the White Swan pas de deux; the Black Swan pas de deux and variations, staged by company régisseur, Joanna Berman. Larissa Kogut and Michael Wells impressively performed the White Swan pas de deux, no easy feat. It’s amazing, the breadth of talent and versatility this company has. Partnered pirouettes were solid, lifts were assured. Kogut provided all the appropriate Odette nuances, the demure expression, the arm flutters, the tiny head quirks, the foot beating sur le cou de pied during a partnered promenade. Wells was there for her through every step and lift.

Larissa Kogut and Michael Wells – White Swan Pas de Deux Photo by Bilha Sperling

Jordan Nicole Tilton (San Francisco Ballet fans will remember her as Jordan Hammond) is a welcome addition to the Diablo roster this season, and paired beautifully with another former San Francisco Ballet dancer, Raymond Tilton. The couple (offstage, too; they are married) danced the role with the strength and theatricality it required. This is a deceptively challenging pas de deux, ramped up a notch from its White Swan equivalent, with its more aggressive pirouettes, leaps, lifts, and sometimes the couple struggled. But as if to right an earlier mistimed passage, they finished the pas de deux strongly, nailing the last iconic pose of the adagio, which thrilled the audience.

Jordan Tilton and Raymond Tilton – Black Swan Pas de Deux. Photo by Bilha Sperling

Berman’s adapted staging turns the Black Swan pas de deux coda into an ensemble variation, which worked great and brought all ten company dancers onstage. Christian Squires knocked out a set of turns à la seconde, whipping around expertly, filling that craving anyone in the audience might have had for the thirty-two-fouetté series. Individual dancers and couples shot onstage, spun, leapt, and dashed off to Tchaikovsky’s propulsive score. The closing tableau, five sets of dance couples in matching black tutu and costumes, felt so charming, so right for this talented, versatile boutique company.

In an era characterized by struggling arts organizations, Diablo Ballet has continued to deliver for twenty-four years. Credit for this goes to artistic director Lauren Jonas, not just for her hard work and dedication, but her ability to motivate others: not just the dancers but the administrative and executive staff; the Board of Directors; the community, which includes people of all ages. (The company has a teen board – how smart and cool is that?) It’s a fine example of what works in the arts these days, and I hope other companies, small and large, take note.

**

*About that short film, a now-annual treat. This year’s world premiere is called Spiritus. Produced and directed by Walter Yamazaki, as in previous years, and likewise, a commissioned score by Justin Levitt. Last year’s was the award-winning Libera. Check out this stunning trailer.