Monday, May 8, 2017

"Dance Series 02"

Dance Series 02
The Poetry of Being (Nicole Haskins); Broken Open (Amy Seiwert);
Be Here Now (Trey McIntyre)

The Company of Smuin's Poetry of Being
The theatricality of the evening now on the stage in Smuin’s Dance Series 02 is as indisputable as the beauty, athleticism, and wonder of its three, one-act dances.  Each tells a story -- even without script and words -- that mesmerizes, excites, and thrills as the progression from classical beauty to contemporary leaps and rolls to a recent yesterday’s scenes of love, protest, and escape magically passes before us.  Even for a dance novice as myself, there is no doubt but that this conclusion to Smuin’s 23rd season with its two world premieres and one revival is one that will delight both the first-time goer and the season subscriber with its creativity in choreography, eye-popping qualities in production, and jaw-dropping excellence in dance execution.

With the strands of Tchaikovsky floating all around them, six members of the company in deep blue costumes designed by Susan Roemer surround two featured dancers in flesh hues.  The combination of numbers of dancers from two to ten varies as individuals, couples, and trios glide in and out with grace and seemingly little effort.  Slanted bodies are slid by partners across great spans of the stage, only to be gently lifted to the music’s swell.  The entire group of ten suddenly moves in slow motion to be followed by near frenzy as couples finally freeze in momentary hugs. 

Benjamin Warner & Terez Dean
The sense of joy in this world-premiere Poetry of Being (choreographed by Nicole Haskins) is particularly felt in the dazzling feature of Terez Dean and Benjamin Warner as in the second movement they appear amongst a receding line of eight other dancers – backs now to the audience.  Their waltz-like movements contrast with sudden separations and then rushes yet again to entangle and pause in their sculpture of twisted, twirling limbs.  The reversal of costume colors as the two come back in the original, vibrant blue at the curtain’s close amidst the sea of flesh worn now by the rest is arresting.

Ben Needham-Wood, Rachel Furst & Jonathan Powell
With costumes whose colorful tops bear the graffiti one might find on the protest walls of the late eighties in Berlin or Prague, the full stage of sixteen dancers in Amy Seiwert’s Broken Open combines rushing sweeps of bodies on and off stage with athletic, strong movements that take them high and low.  At times, dancers become much like a conveyer belt to move along one of the members in a beautifully sculpted machine.  At other times, male bodies in coordinated leaps like gazelles on a plain move across the stage with such power and height as to take one’s breath away.

The six movements offer a chance for a number of different individuals to star for a few minutes in highlighted performance, supported by the electric excitement of other ensemble members.  Many combinations of sex and number of dancers come together in stunning fashions, with always the effect of some surprise and awe in the sheer power of the moves.  Music from three of Julia Kent’s albums feature the looped cello, found sounds, and electronic music that distinguish her style and that provide a sense of friction and dissonance when things get too close and need to be Broken Open.

Jonathan Powell, Terez Dean & Michael Wells
But it is perhaps the evening’s third installment that audience members will leave most remembering and more than likely telling friends, “You must not missing seeing ...”.  An opening video by Trey McIntyre takes us back to the Summer of Love of fifty years past as we see and hear reminders of hippie gatherings of free love and many drugs, civil rights protests, the horrors of Vietnam, and the threats of a nuclear cloud descending upon us all.  The final images of nuclear tests morph into a giant ice cream cone that becomes the center piece of a clever, fun scenic design by Sandra Woodall – the scoop of which will continue to serve as a video screen for further projections of the era as the world premiere of Trey McIntyre’s Be Here Now begins.

The many fringes, colorful head-bands, half-naked bodies, and psychedelic colors of flowing and skimpy costumes employed by Sandra Woodall’s homage to the late ‘60s ensure that the fabulously entertaining dance sequences will remind many in the audience of their teenage days in streets, parks, and concerts.  There is much fun and frivolity as well as love and community explicitly implied in the choreography of Trey McIntyre. 

Jonathan Powell & Members of Be Here Now
Bodies come together to support a comrade’s sudden leap or blind fall from nowhere – only to lift, sway, and circle the caught body and then to pass it on as another focus captures the group’s attention.  The playfulness of those who are looking to escape the awful realities of war and injustice is particularly played out by a giant, inflated ‘dough boy’ that dances among the gathered group of hippie friends, with its own twists and turns a wonder to watch. 

The always changing array of individual, many coupled, and entire group movements in dance is accompanied by a nostalgic soundtrack of no less than nine classics of the Summer of Love period, featuring the likes of the Mamas and Pappas, Sly & the Family Stone, Jefferson Airplane, and of course, Janis Joplin.  Each of these numbers elicits memories of long-ago images and experiences for many of us in the audience, especially as we witness the music’s wonderful interpretations by the dancers before us.

But perhaps it is the Voice Church Inspire Choir’s rendition of the union song “Which Side Are You On” – along with the powerful conflict and coming together of the choreography we see so dynamically performed by the troupe – that has the biggest connection with our world today.  In a current time when the politics and power of the 1% and the divisions between them and everyone else only seem to get starker by the day, the frustrations of forty years ago -- seen so vividly in the faces and the moves of the dancers -- are now as real as then.  And thus the title, Be Here Now, takes on added significance.

All in all, there is no way an audience member – even one as I who spends much more time seeing plays and musicals than dance – can not walk out of Smuin’s Dance Series 02 without feeling invigorated, inspired, and totally entertained in so many respects.

Rating: 5 E

 Having concluded its performance at The Mountain View Center for the Arts (May 5-7, 2017), Smuin’s Dances Series 02 continues at Lesher Center for the Arts May 12-13, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, May 19-28, and Sunset Center in Carmel, June 2-3  Tickets are available online at

Photo Credits: Keith Sutter (The Poetry of Meaning, Be Here Now); Chris Hardy (Broken Open).

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