In 1994, Michael Smuin set out to “infuse ballet with the rhythm, speed, and syncopation of American popular culture.”
In 1994, Michael Smuin set out to “infuse ballet with the rhythm, speed, and syncopation of American popular culture.” His vision continues on following 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 significant companies such as American Ballet Theatre, a choreographer for important troupes such as the Dance Theatre of Harlem, and ballet master and eventually artistic director at San Francisco Ballet.
Mischief, elegance, rollicking novelties, stunning classical ballet, and characteristic sass all embody Michael’s legacy of show-stopping choreography. With works set to Haydn, Bach, and Brahms, Gershwin, Elvis, The Beatles, Philip Glass and Willie Nelson, Michael united classical aesthetics with pop pizzazz in a unique artistic direction the Company celebrates today. Moving with astonishing, gravity-defying grace, Michael built Smuin Contemporary American Ballet to take its place in the top tier of American ballet companies.
Working with the Gene Kelly
Michael worked and played with many of the great leading names of the diverse disciplines of dance and the entertainment media. 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 Kelly (pictured on the right) 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 and more. 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.” Michael Smuin’s legacy endures in his innovative choreography across many disciplines, and the Company he built.