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Smuin Ballet

'Starshadows,' 'Ruhig,' 'Three in Company,' 'Dumky,' 'Fly Me to the Moon'

A toe-tapping evening at the ballet

by Mary Ellen Hunt

Ocrtober 11, 2004 -- Palace of Fine Arts Theatre, San Francisco

The ever-busy Smuin Ballet opened a fresh chapter in its 10-year history with four likable premieres -- including three from company mainstays Amy Seiwert, Celia Fushille-Burke and Shannon Hurlburt -- which ranged from sleek to swank Friday night at the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre.

Diversifying the repertoire for this lengthy but satisfying show -- which plays in San Francisco through Sunday and comes to Walnut Creek and Mountain View next February -- is a sharp move for artistic director Michael Smuin, whose Sinatra-inspired "Fly Me to the Moon" closed the program. This was one of the 16-member company's more enjoyable evenings, with a little something for everyone.

That Seiwert, one of the Bay Area's most intriguing young dance-makers, has a choreographic look entirely different from the Smuin house style is immediately apparent in "Ruhig," which she created to a cantata by J.S. Bach. "Ruhig," which means "quiet" in German, feels perhaps a little confined spatially -- Seiwert tends to play out her hand from the inside out, which often has the effect of containing the movement. Nevertheless, this carefully constructed abstraction for three couples -- an elegant Nicole Trerise, along with Ethan White, Robin Cornwell, Lee Bell, Dalia Rawson and John DeSerio -- with its off-balance shapes and quick canons, demonstrates an increasing structural mastery.

The winsome Trerise, who's gotten better and better over the past few years, was also a standout in her acrobatic duet with James Strong early in the program in Smuin's moody and theatrical 1997 "Starshadows," an adagio for three couples to Maurice Ravel's Piano Concerto in G major.

Longtime Smuin muse Fushille-Burke chose the music of Antonio Vivaldi to deftly showcase a more classical side of the company in "Three in Company." The sprightly Vanessa Thiessen, partnered by David Strobbe and Hurlburt, tore through this intricate and springy diversion with neatness and style, even if the smile on her face was occasionally strained.

Hurlburt's own "Dumky," to the Gypsy-ish folk music of the same title by Antonin Dvorak, showed glints of his own buoyant stage persona as well as a solid musicality. More expansive in his use of the stage than Seiwert and Fushille-Burke, Hurlburt sent his four dancers, Erin Yarbrough, Jessica Touchet, Pedro Gamino and Strong, on a charming, lighthearted romp that seemed intent on being seriously unserious. Pretty partnered interludes for the quartet, a lithe duo for the men, a trio for Gamino and the women, and a handsome solo for Strong were all punctuated by well-timed little physical jokes throughout "Dumky," which found an especially appreciative audience Friday night.

Thus primed, toes were tapping and fingers snapping from the start of Smuin's "Fly Me to the Moon," a dapper collection of vignettes to nine Frank Sinatra standards.

Even if the dancing wasn't exactly Cyd Charisse and Gene Kelly, the echoes of grand MGM musicals were still there in Ann Beck's natty vests and oversize 1950s fedoras for the men along with frothy dresses for the women. Gamino's soaring elevation gave extra lift to the title number, and Seiwert and Strobbe cut loose to "I've Got You Under My Skin," flying around the stage with abandon. Fushille-Burke was fresh and pretty in a "Moonlight Serenade" duet with Strong; but closest to the Kelly-esque ease and charm was the scene-stealing Hurlburt, who turned in another nonchalant winner in "That's Life," sending the audience out of the theater humming and doing a little strut down the street.

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This review first appeared in the Contra Costa Times.

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