Defying Gravity with Amy Seiwert’s “Falling Up”

        Former Smuin dancer and Choreographer in Residence Amy Seiwert has developed her singular artistic voice at Smuin for countless years. Seiwert first started dancing with the Company in 1999, and attributes many of the opportunities she received as a burgeoning choreographer to founder Michael Smuin. Upon her arrival at Smuin, Seiwert was already well-versed in the art of creating dances. She soon received her first commission from Smuin during the Company’s 10th anniversary season, entitled Short Ride. Michael Smuin envisioned a retrospective, but felt that the program needed “a nod to the future.” For him, Amy Seiwert’s unique style personified the future of contemporary ballet.

        Since 2004, Seiwert has created 11 new ballets for Smuin and debuted a new work for each edition of The Christmas Ballet. Working as Choreographer in Residence has been “a huge gift,” Seiwert affirms. “I’ve had this group of fantastic dancers to create on and I’ve really gotten to develop a relationship with them.” This bond with the dancers has allowed her to take more risks in her work, fully developing her style and viewpoint as a choreographer. One of her most memorable interactions with Michael Smuin followed the debut of Seiwert’s 2005 decidedly modern work The Melting. After viewing the ballet, a family member curiously asked her if she had “ever considered being more like Michael.” Upon later hearing the story, Smuin responded: “Does she know you’re doing really well just being yourself?”

        Despite the marked difference in their artistic styles, Seiwert always felt Smuin supported her wholeheartedly. “One of the really fantastic things that Michael did was recommend me to the New York Choreographic Institute, which is [a developmental workshop] with New York City Ballet,” Seiwert recollects. “I got accepted and I actually got to do it twiceit was an incredible experience.” While dancing with the Company, Michael Smuin would often grant her leaves of absence to choreograph on other companies, something Seiwert describes as “very rare and generous.” With Smuin’s support, Seiwert started receiving commissions for her work from various acclaimed ballet companies throughout the country.

        With the return of Falling Up during this season’s Dance Series 02, Seiwert reflects on the trajectory of her choreographic career since the ballet’s premiere in 2007. “At the time my relationship to structure was more conventional,” she reveals. Falling Up, her fifth ballet for the Company, marked the beginning of her experimentation with the classical ballet vocabulary, which remains at the root of her works today. “I think that even in my more contemporary work, the classical technique is front and center,” Seiwert points out. Despite the obvious classical overtones, the ballet is unconventional, with the female dancers leading the seemingly weightless partnering, creating a unique dynamic between the dancers. “I think it’s something [that] in dance we do oftenyou’re working to defy gravity,” the choreographer explains; hence the ballet’s fitting title: Falling Up.

        Unbeknownst to most audience members, the circumstances under which the work was first created 10 years ago were particularly trying for the Company. “Falling Up is the piece I was creating when Michael died,” Seiwert recalls. In revisiting the piece, she is now ”so cognizant of the part of [the] ballet that existed when Michael was alive, and then the parts [they] made the next day, when he was gone.” Those with the Company at the time felt the best way to honor him was to perform to the best of their abilities, processing their loss, as Seiwert says, through doing what they all loved: “making art.”

        As with any work she creates, Seiwert aspires “to really connect with the audience, for the audience to feel something. Indifference is the one thing that I would view as a failure– if someone watches my work and it doesn’t touch them in any way.” The choreographer simply hopes that “an audience member can watch the piece and enjoy it without trying to figure it out or understand it literally.”  Falling Up is one of the most romantic pieces Seiwert has made to date and, in an art form with so much unsaid, the musicality and “fierce technique” of the dancers leaves much open to interpretation. In the end, the choreographer’s only hope for the audience would just be to “fall into this ballet.“

** Written by Eva Faizi, Smuin’s Communications Manager

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Learn more about Amy Seiwert’s work and Falling Up in an exclusive interview for Smuin below:

Smuin’s Dance Series 02 premieres at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts this April! Featuring a variety of works showcasing the Company dancers’ strength and versatility, this is a performance you won’t want to miss! Get your tickets today! 
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