Smuin Ballet steps up innovation and sensuality for its spring show at Sunset.
Thursday, June 3, 2010
Their exquisitely defined muscles glisten against a dark backdrop. All six slice fencing foils through the air, slide them luxuriously along the stage floor, then flip them suddenly with the flick of a toe. Instead of fighting with one another, each man does battle with his own foil, shifting it jerkily around his body in a wild pas de deux. When six women suddenly emerge out of the darkness, they replace the fencing foils, alternately encircling and piercing the men with their pliable limbs.
The charged sensuality of these scenes from Petite Mort (French for orgasm) runs through all the pieces in Smuin Ballet’s spring show, which visits Sunset Center this weekend. “French Twist” turns the heat up further, with couples flirtatiously romping about the stage to the caressing, syncopated tunes of French composer Hugues Le Bars. While “Songs of Mahler,” set to the late 19th century music of German composer Gustav Mahler, is a bit more reserved, its couples cavort across an imagined German countryside with a similar playful flirtation.
Smuin does sensuality with a slant; each piece carries with it a flavor of the new and the surprising. In “French Twist,” Chinese choreographer Ma Cong throws flexed feet and angular arms in with more classical postures and pollinates ballet with elements of popular social dance. Czechoslavakian choreographer Jiri Kilian’s innovative use of the fencing foils creates an exquisitely precise, prop-centered dynamic not often seen in ballet. Although company founder Michael Smuin’s “Songs of Mahler” is fairly classical in terms of posturing, it uses the strength of classical ballet itself to achieve nontraditional, asymmetrical moves and formations.
Company dancer Aaron Thayer says what he likes about Smuin Ballet is that “you’re not going to get what you expect.” It’s neither contemporary dance, he argues, nor a continuation of the stagnant tradition of the story ballets. “When you go to a Smuin show, you can think to yourself, ‘Maybe ballet wasn’t what I thought it was,’” he says. “Ballet is so different now, and people need to see that.”
This show does present the unexpected, but, ironically, it does so in the way that most Smuin shows do. You get what you expect when you go see Smuin: tremendously talented dancers moving together with flawless synergy and showing off their talent in a surprising, eye-catching manner.
At several points throughout this show, the dancers lie on the floor or hover just above it, creating a flower or starburst pattern, then a few poke their heads through others’ arms or legs to put on the finishing touches, while the audience oohs and aahs. These displays are riveting because the dancers move with one another in such perfect harmony.
Thayer says this synergy is achieved largely through peer mentoring: Since the choreographer of the piece is not always in town “the dancers are responsible for keeping each other on target.” Practice is probably the most effective teacher, however. The collaborative dynamics usually improve considerably over the course of the concert’s run. Since the Carmel shows mark the end of the string program’s one-month run, they are likely to show Smuin’s corps de ballet at the height of its harmonious artistry.