Sexy, sassy Smuin Ballet

Smuin Ballet has begun its 22nd season with a joyful, contemporary yet classic program including ready-to-watch again world premieres.

Among them is choreographer-in-residence Amy Seiwert’s bold, lyrical crowd-pleaser “Broken Open,” which equally showcased the troupe’s 16 dancers opening night in Walnut Creek. (Performances continue in Mountain View and San Francisco this week and next.)

The 30-minute work, the evening’s closer, is set to a gorgeously lush, melodic, mostly uptempo string-filled score by cellist-composer Julia Kent that nicely complements the dance’s urban vibe. Wearing bodysuits with black, white, pink, green and blue graffiti-like designs, the kinetic performers, under a bright spotlight (perhaps the sun, or even moon), filled the stage, often en pointe, moving from pairs to groups of three or larger.

On opening night, Robert Kretz took center stage as the main character in company member Ben Needham-Wood’s world-premiere “Maslow,” which, according to program notes, is inspired by psychologist Abraham Maslow’s theories about humans’ attempts to reach their greatest potential.

Wearing a white shirt, brown vest and slacks, Kretz begins, seated in an armchair at the side of the stage, with a lamp and table next to him. A shadow, or alter ego of sorts (a snazzy Terez Dean), pops up behind him, then engages him.

Then he breaks, wildly stepping out in front of the spirited ensemble (Erica Chipp, Cara Cooper, Nicole Haskins, Dustin James, Rex Wheeler) as they dance to cellist-composer Ben Sollee’s increasingly jazzy contemporary score.

Some of the movement in Needham-Woods’ dance is reminiscent of the evening’s first work, Ma Cong’s “French Twist,” a 2010 Smuin Ballet premiere featuring bright carnival and carousel-like music by Hugues Le Bars. Inspired by Tom and Jerry cartoons, the rapid, animated five-movement dance features pairs, trios and the ensemble of eight, interlocking and separating in busy, industrial yet fluid, often symmetrical, movement. Like “Broken Open,” it has a sense of urgency and a touch of mystery.

Two breathtaking piano concertos by Dmitri Shostakovich gorgeously complemented the program’s quieter classical work, Michael Smuin’s 1981 “Bouquet” (created for San Francisco Ballet). The two-part dance opened with a quartet featuring Erin Yarbrough-Powell with Mengjun Chen, Dustin James and Jonathan Powell; Susan Roemer and Robert Moore followed in an evocative pax de deux that captured the beauty, and drama, of romance.

Smuin Ballet
Where: Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View
When: 8 p.m. Sept. 24-25, 2 and 8 p.m. Sept. 26, 2 p.m. Sept. 27
Tickets: $51 to $68
Contact: (650) 903-6000,
Note: Performances continue Oct. 1-4 at Palace of Fine Arts, 3301 Lyon St., S.F.

Leslie Katz

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