When Michael Smuin died suddenly in April, the company he founded 13 years before and guided personally showed discipline and professionalism by completing the season in spite of the devastating loss. Instead of a last hurrah, that turned out to be the first instance of the “post-Michael period.” At a recent open rehearsal, Smuin Ballet pointed to the future, carrying on the work of its founder.
Smuin was a prominent figure in the history of San Francisco Ballet (co-artistic director for 12 years, to 1985), and some of the people continuing on his mission work come from the same source. Smuin Ballet Manager Jo Ellen Arntz and Associate Director Celia Fushille-Burke were both SFB dancers. Managing director Dwight Hutton comes from Seattle, where he was company manager of Pacific Northwest Ballet, which has strong links with San Francisco.
As at SFB, Smuin both created a profusion of new works for his company (40 in a decade) and encouraged his dancers to choreograph themselves.
Always a small, select company, frequently hiring new members — there have been five in the past year — Smuin Ballet consists of a baker’s dozen: Robin Cornwell (Marin Ballet), Ikolo Griffin (S.F. Ballet, Dance Theater of Harlem, Joffrey Ballet), Courtney Hellebuyck (Pennsylvania Ballet), Shannon Hurlburt (Hartford Ballet), James Mills (Tulsa and Colorado Ballets), Olivia Ramsay (State Street Ballet). Also: Amy Seiwert (Sacramento Ballet), Aaron Thayer (Cincinnati Ballet), Vanessa Thiessen (Oregon Ballet Theater), Jessica Touchet, Ethan White (Oakland Ballet), Erin Yarbrough (Oakland Ballet),and Kevin Yee-Chan.
Smuin Ballet’s 14th season will be wide-ranging, starting Friday with 10 fall season performances in the Palace of Fine Arts.
Fourteen performances of “The Christmas Ballet” will take place in December at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater, where the spring program (of Smuin’s “Dancin’ with Gershwin”) will occur in May 2008. The troupe also travels to Walnut Creek, Mountain View and Carmel.
For tickets, call (415) 978-2787; for more information, visit www.smuinballet.org.