An American ballet company
with a distinctly American accent
That’s what Michael Smuin set out to build in 1994. In his own words, “…to infuse ballet with the rhythm, speed, and syncopation of American popular culture.” And he succeeded so well that his vision continued after his his sudden passing in 2007.
Eclectically creative, Michael tackled everything from ice capades to circus acts, from Hollywood movies to Broadway shows. He was an Emmy, Drama Desk, and Tony Award winner for outstanding achievements in choreography and best direction of a musical.
With his flair for storytelling, his musicality, his energy, his toughness, his love of the art, Michael brought new audiences not only to Smuin but also to ballet. A classicist by intuition, Michael was over time a principal dancer of such significant companies as American Ballet Theatre, a choreographer for such important troupes as the Dance Theatre of Harlem, and ballet master and finally artistic director at San Francisco Ballet.
Mischief, elegance, rollicking novelties, stunning classical ballet, Smuin sass. Haydn, Bach, and Brahms, Gershwin, Elvis, The Beatles, Philip Glass and Willie Nelson, moving with astonishing gravity-defying grace, Michael built Smuin Ballet to take its place in the top tier of American ballet companies.
Michael worked and played with all of the greats and leading names of the diverse disciplines of dance and the entertainment media. Here he is with Gene Kelly, a kindred spirit. Michael became a convert to classicism when as a small boy in the 1940s he saw the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo on tour. Gene had a passion for classical ballet, and in the 1930s when he was in his mid-twenties he was offered a place with the touring company of the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo. When he got a good look at the bright young things around him–“practically children!”–he turned down the offer and made his way to New York’s musical theater.
These two men were fluent in every dialect of dance – jazz, tap, tango, jitterbug, waltz. Gene brought classical ballet to Broadway and Hollywood; Michael brought the dance forms of Broadway and Hollywood to ballet. They shared a lifelong desire to bring new audiences to dance, and to making dance of every kind richer by suffusing it with the rhythms and movements of its sister forms. And they shared what Kelly called “…a jaw-jutting, up-on-the-toes cockiness.” “When I work on Broadway, I’m the ballet guy,” Michael said. “And when I work in ballet, I’m the Broadway guy. I never am what I am when I’m doing it. People don’t want you to be successful in more than one thing.” Thumbing his nose at that idea, Michael Smuin was a great success at everything he put his heart, his head, and his hand to.