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Smuin Ballets/SF is presenting a new,
evening-length program, Dancin with Gershwin, that demonstrates the
accomplished showmanship of choreographer Michael Smuin.
Using songs composed by George Gershwin, as well as some of his orchestral
music, Smuin has devised an entertainment that moves along briskly. The songs, that span Gershwins all-too-brief
career (he died at age 38), keep changing mood. Smuin
has used recordings old and new of the songs, with many familiar singers represented in
his selections. Willa Kims costumes are
colorful and witty. The design elements and
lighting, by Rick Goodwin and Sara Linnie Slocum, also contribute to this engaging
Who could resist the charms of Allison Jay? She appears magically through a sea of ostrich feather fans (shades of Sally Rand, for those who remember the famous fan dancer) held by a corps of six men. Jay wears a tight red velvet dress revealing an impressive cleavage adorned with diamonds. To the voice of Marilyn Monroe singing Do It Again, she prances, slinks and vamps through a clever dance in which the fans play an active part. This was the highlight of the evening.
The dozen members of the company obviously relish what they are doing, and the audience has a good time with them. The program beings with a piano (painted bright red) in the spotlight as the overture plays. Hernán Piquin springs into action, playing the keyboard with his feet, timed to the music, and is joined by Celia Fushille-Burke in a lively routine that sets the tone for the evening ahead. As the overture ends, the piano flies away and the program moves quickly into an homage to Al Jolson and his signature song, Swanee. The dexterous Shannon Hurlburt, dressed like Jolson, is backed by six smaller Jolsons, and the routine they perform draws upon the well-known Jolson moves.
The first part of the program emphasizes upbeat selections, with an occasional romantic pas de deux, and an acrobatic solo by the lithe Hernán Piquin danced to It Aint Necessarily So from the Gershwin opera Porgy and Bess. This number employs shadow projections that give visual representation to the lyrics--another witty, theatrical touch. There is also a dance for two couples with the women seated on rolling chairs, an homage to Busby Berkley routines, and a Andrews Sisters-inspired rendering of Of Thee I Sing.
The second part of the program begins with a moody dance (set to the Adagio section from the Concerto in F) for two couples. The story implied in the dance is that the couples are mismatchedthe man of one couple yearns for the woman of the other couple. Antony Tudors masterpiece Lilac Garden uses the same premise and is a ballet that Smuin knows well. In fact, throughout the evening, Smuin borrows from other choreographers, putting their movements together in his own way. Smuin is more a synthesizer than an original creator of movement; he makes astute choices in what he borrows.
Two young performers (the accomplished Roberto Cisneros and Anthony Huxley, both age 12) are featured in a tap routine (one of several tap dances) that ends with a stab at hip hop. Smuin is always up to date in his use of vernacular movement. Cisneros is also featured in an homage to Fred Astaire in which he mimics the moves of Shannon Hurlburt dancing to a recording of Fascinating Rhythm made by Fred Astaire. The program ends with the entire company dancing to Slap That Bass, bringing the evening to a spirited close.
- Larry Campbell