Smuin Ballet's Season Opener Accurately Reflects the Company’s Adventurous Ambitions

A world premier by Garrett Ammon at the Lesher Center ushers in a new era.


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Michael Smuin’s ballet is set to Dvorak’s "Stabat Mater" and recalls the tragedy of 9/11.

David DeSilva

When the late Michael Smuin started his Smuin Ballet company in 1994, he had accumulated a large respectable repertoire, but he wanted to continue infusing “ballet with the rhythm, speed, and syncopation of American popular culture.” He was always forward-looking. In that spirit, he started an open-door policy to offer space for other talents, foremost among them company member, and now choreographer-in-residence, Amy Seiwert, whose career has blossomed far beyond her parent company.

While Smuin Ballet will always be a home for its founder’s inheritance, since Smuin’s unexpected demise in 2007, a remarkable growth—both in depth and in breadth—has taken place. Not only has the company presented younger American choreographers (Helen Pickett, Trey McIntyre, Adam Hougland, and Ma Cong) but also major European artists such as Jiri Kylian. In the process, the 16-member ensemble has become a highly disciplined, adventurous group of dancers who step up to the challenges that Artistic Director Celia Fushille offers them.

This season’s opening program—as always, performed in Walnut Creek’s Lesher Center for the Arts—accurately reflects the company’s current ambitions. One of the performances is a world premiere by Colorado choreographer Garrett Ammon, whose lighted-hearted take on Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings in C Major—of Balanchine memory—made him a welcome discovery in 2014. Australia-born Stanton Welch, now artistic director of the Houston Ballet, started his American career in San Francisco. The 1999 Indigo was his first commission from that company. A local premiere with costumes the color in indigo, this neo-classical work has received high praise for its fluidity, strength, and romance.

Also on the program is a reprise of Michael Smuin’s Stabat Mater, created as a response to the tragedy of 9/11. Set to the first movement of Dvorak’s Stabat Mater, the ballet works around a mother figure who is mourning her dead son. Sad to say, thematically the piece could have been pulled out of the latest headlines.

Since Smuin has become a major asset for contemporary ballet, it is perhaps appropriate that the new season is also bringing a new identity. From now the dancers will be known as: Smuin Contemporary American Ballet.

Smuin Contemporary American Ballet, Sept. 23, 8 p.m., Sept. 24, 2 p.m., $52-$68. Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek, SmuinBallet.org.

This report appears in the September edition of our sister publication, The East Bay Monthly.

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