Smuin’s 2017 Choreography Showcase recently concluded its run at ODC Theater following three memorable, sold out performances. Featuring works from seven Smuin dancers (and one Smuin alumnus), the Choreography Showcase continues a tradition originally established in 2008. Each dancer-turned-choreographer was given only 10 hours in the studio to create their piece. From hip hop to classical ballet, with dancers donning both pointe shoes and socks in the same performance, the showcase was a diverse exploration of ballet technique. Musical stylings ranged from Missy Elliott to Vivaldi to original, commissioned scores and acoustic guitar, accompanied by lighting design by the Company’s own Michael Oesch.

       As Artistic Director Celia Fushille describes it, the art of choreography is “not just picking the music and creating the dance, it truly is a learning opportunity for [our dancers]. What the audience doesn’t often realize is that there are many elements involved when creating a new work, even in a small venue.” For the dancers, the Choreography Showcase is a true exploration of ideas; with some drawing inspiration from the music, and others being inspired solely by their chosen cast.

       Opening the show was Haskins’ Sarcastic Sketches, set to an original score from pianist and composer Daniel Sullivan. This refreshing, tongue-in-cheek work conveyed a level of character and humorous expression not often seen in the context of a ballet. At the end of the piece, dancer Jonathan Powell breached the barrier between dancer and musician, walking up behind Sullivan to play the final note on the piano.
       Retired Smuin dancer Matthew Linzer presented For the Birds, a playful piece set to a rhythmic electronic composition by Isolée. The quintet of dancers, all asymmetrically adorned with ribbons, dashed about the stage with birdlike port de bras.

       Ben Needham-Wood revisited his A Moment Before Tomorrow, rife with meaningful gestures that dancer Rex Wheeler brought to life with intense sincerity. A continuation of an earlier duet danced by Weston Krukow and Erin Yarbrough-Powell in 2014, this solo was lost in nostalgia; physically present onstage in the form of old family photos, and additionally shared with the audience on a small projection screen.

       Haskins’ second work, There’s Rosemary, set to Handel’s “Ho Perduto Il Caro Sposo” was beautifully cohesive. This soulful pas de deux had Erin Yarbrough-Powell stepping out of shadows to dance with Mengjun Chen, only to later slink back again. The dark lighting that accompanied the dancers enhanced the ballet’s mysterious and almost sensual tone.

       Missy – Part 2, another revisited work from Needham-Wood, began like its first iteration, with a trio of women in hooded sweatshirts and pointe shoes. Bursting from the wings with personality and swagger, dancer Robert Kretz injected new vigor into this hip hop ballet, prompting the dancers to shed their Smuin hoodies and join in the fun.

       Rex Wheeler’s Guide her Onward, was an exploration of graceful momentum, accentuated by the female cast members’ unbound hair and darting formations. The dancers rushed about the stage, seemingly torn between moving forward and pausing to take introspective movements for themselves.

       Dancer Tessa Barbour presented De La Nuit, complete with beautiful nude-toned costumes supplied by former Smuin dancer Susan Roemer’s S-Curve Apparel and Design. Barbour’s choreography highlighted all four dancers with its lyrical movement, which was beautifully paired with ethereal lighting. 

       Three and Some Change, choreographed by Robert Kretz, showcased dancer Lauren Pschirrer’s athleticism and acting ability in a dramatic dance for three. Its unapologetic staccato had dancers sliding on the floor, fiercely gesturing as if sorting through some inner turmoil.

         Dustin James’ Serendipity offered a colorful interpretation of Chopin’s piano concerti, complete with linear, circling arms and flicking wrists. The dancers’ joyous frolicking about the stage captured the audience in their unassuming charm.

       Closing the performance was Erica Felsch’s three-part work entitled Going On. Beginning with a touching and sentimental pas de deux for Erin Yarbrough-Powell and Jonathan Powell, the dancers performed to a cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “April Come She Will” (with live accompaniment by Felsch’s father and uncle). In contrast, the following duet for Tessa Barbour and Terez Dean featured dynamic movement and evocative poses, set to a recording of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “The American Dream” speech. Ending on a high note, 13 of Smuin’s dancers let loose in a joyous ensemble to Donny Hathaway’s “What’s Going On.”

       As is Smuin tradition, each performance is followed with a Q&A session with the artists. Artistic Director Celia Fushille credits the dancers for being willing to explore what is, for some, uncharted territory. She notes that it’s always “fascinating for our patrons to hear the choreographers’ and dancers’ thoughts and impressions. I think it’s just fantastic that they are comfortable and willing to take this wonderful opportunity and run with it.”

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Couldn’t make it to the Choreography Showcase this year? Smuin will be back performing its highly anticipated Dance Series 02 in May, honoring the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love and featuring a world premiere from one of Smuin’s dancers: Nicole Haskins! Purchase your tickets today.