There are always two good reasons to see Smuin Ballet. One is to see what resident choreographer Amy Seiwert has up her sleeve, and two is to see Erin Yarbrough-Stewart perform.
At opening night of its 2011 fall season, Smuin Ballet, under direction of Celia Fushille, delivered both, with a potpourri from Michael Smuin’s oeuvre beginning the program.
“Tango Palace: Tangos, fados and other curios,” is classic Smuin. In the theatrical, crowd-pleasing work inspired by tango’s sensual mythologies, three couples twist and tangle their bodies around each other in a battle between the sexes. Terez Dean, with her spirited, perfectly timed jauntiness and charm, proved most seductive.
Smuin’s somber “Stabat Mater” is multilayered. The poignant piece, choreographed to Antonin Dvorak’s choral work of the same name, was Smuin’s response to 9/11. Dvorak, who took the Latin title from the traditional Catholic hymn devoted to Mary’s sorrow, composed the work in memory of the death of his infant daughter.
Yarbrough-Stewart’s exceptional technique, form and musicality, as well as dramatic talent, make her an ideal lead in “Stabat Mater.” The breadth of her emotional capacity exemplifies not only grief itself, but the complete process of mourning, from shock, to sifting through memories, and finally, acceptance.
“Dear Miss Cline,” Seiwert’s world-premiere tribute to Nashville songstress Patsy Cline, departs from her edgy, contemporary style into the realm of pop, and is a nod to Smuin, who was her mentor.
In the vein of Paul Taylor’s “Company B” or Jerome Robbins’ jazzy pieces, the ensemble performs sharp, witty miniature narratives to Cline’s unwavering vocals. Balanchine’s influence is also present in Seiwert’s adept use of space, rhythm and in the scope of her choreographic vocabulary.
The piece is chic and smart, and the dancers buck audience expectations with turns, twists, lifts and flexed feet when least expected. While the whole cast clearly enjoys performing the work, Dean and Yarbrough-Stewart and their partners Christian Squires and John Speed Orr were most nimble and playful.
Smuin’s brief pas de deux from 1969, “Eternal Idol,” was the most baroque item on the program, opening with a pair of dancers seated on a large rock, recalling Rodin’s iconic sculpture of two lovers.
Robin Cornwell and Jonathan Dummar, in flesh-toned unitards, made a noble effort to give the piece transcendent qualities, but the rock’s presence combined with one of Chopin’s most popular piano concertos made it ring with too much sentimentality.
Where: Palace of Fine Arts Theatre, 3301 Lyon St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. today and Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday
Tickets: $25 to $159
Contact: (415) 556-5000, www.smuinballet.org