True to its eclectic signature, Smuin Ballet opens its 21st season this week at the Palace of Fine Arts with a program called “Untamed” Dance Series featuring the world premiere of choreographer Garrett Ammon's “Serenade for Strings” set to Tchaikovsky's luscious and romantic piece of the same name.
Smuin Artistic Director Celia Fushille appreciates Ammon's fearless choice of the iconic Tchaikovsky score. She says, “I was thinking, how many versions of the 'Nutcracker' are there out there? How many versions of 'Swan Lake' or 'Carmina Burana?' Garrett was willing to tackle a score that hadn't been touched in 80 years.”
She also admires the style of the dancemaker, who is the artistic director of the Denver-based troupe Wonderbound. Upon first seeing his work, during a visit to judge a choreography competition in Colorado, she says, “I was really blown away by his musicality and beautiful partnering. It was so organic. A lot of choreographers try to be different, but it's not always enjoyable for the dancers because the flow isn't there. It's contemporary dance but clearly in the classical ballet idiom. So it suited us perfectly.”
This weekend's bill also includes “Objects of Curiosity,” a 2007 piece by resident choreographer Amy Siewert, who continues to earn accolades nationwide for innovative, exciting works. Like company founder Michael Smuin, Siewert mines the musical score deeply to extract meaning for the choreography. In “Objects,” Philip Glass' dreamlike, spare melodies are paired with music featuring the kora, a 21-string traditional African harp, written by West African composer, kora master, historian and storyteller Foday Musa Suso.
Rounding out the program — set to Latin and mambo music — is Smuin's “Frankie and Johnny,” about a crime of passion in which Frankie is done wrong by her man and some ne'er-do-wells. Although some images are disturbing — let's just say things don't end well for Johnny — and the work is considered appropriate for mature audiences, Fushille says, “They're almost comic strip caricatures. It's fun for the dancers to really get into character.”
About the moment of Johnny's demise, Fushille, who was the company's original Frankie, says, “When I performed it in Los Angeles, a woman from the audience yelled, 'You go girl!'”