If it wasn’t apparent before, Smuin, under the guidance of artistic director Celia Fushille, has arrived in full force.
“Dance Series 02,” a program with two premieres concluding the troupe’s 23rd season with San Francisco performances at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, is an evening of sensational dance.
Smuin is a company of artists, not just athletes trained in dance technique, and this significant difference elevates Smuin above other contemporary ballet companies. Smuin dancers seem to genuinely enjoy dancing with each other and their warmth and interconnection are conveyed to the audience. Watching them is pure pleasure.
Nicole Haskins’ world premiere “The Poetry of Being,” set to Tchaikovsky’s Sextet in D minor, Op. 70 (“Souvenirs de Florence”), opens the evening with a gentle, almost contemplative note.
Five couples intertwine in Haskins’ intricate choreography with alacrity and precision. Costumes, designed by former Smuin dancer Susan Roemer, are versatile, elegantly form-fitting, with a beige and striking bright blue color scheme. At San Francisco’s opening night, the lead pas de deux was danced with a lush and tender grace by Terez Dean and Benjamin Warner. Michael Oesch’s lighting design showcased the work.
Smuin Choreographer-in Residence Amy Seiwert’s “Broken Open,” a complex, vigorous piece for 16 dancers, premiered to critical acclaim in 2015 and is a welcome reprise. The original and intriguing work gives the dancers a powerful showcase for their fine technique, strength and interpretation.
Seiwert is the rare choreographer who can make women’s ballet pointe work fresh and inventive. Sandra Woodall’s spare, colorful, graffiti-inspired costumes, Brian Jones’ lighting design, and cellist and composer Julia Kent’s score make it a feast for the eyes, ears and brain.
Audiences dreading the thought of another hackneyed exercise in hippie chic — the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love in San Francisco has gotten a lot of local publicity lately — can rest easy regarding another premiere on the program, Trey McIntyre’s “Be Here Now,” which engages more with the era’s higher ideals and less with the historical reality.
McIntyre opens the piece with video of nuclear detonations, a reminder of the plausibility of total annihilation, and then provides the counterbalance to death, which is to “be here now,” so publicly evinced by sixties counterculture.
Although the piece is set to period pop music, Woodall’s costumes and scenic design are evocative rather than literal, and McIntyre’s choreography avoids the pitfalls of clichés. On Friday’s opening, Ben Needham-Wood and Jonathan Powell were outstanding, moving in ways that expand the vocabulary of contemporary ballet.
Smuin Dance Series 02
Where: Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater, 700 Howard St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. May 25-26, 2 and 8 p.m. May 27, 2 p.m. May 28
Tickets: $32 to $75
Contact: (415) 912-1899, www.smuinballet.org