“Ingenuity and Gumption:” Smuin Ballet’s Dance Series Two

Smuin Ballet’s Dance Series Two opened at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco this past weekend. Featuring the world premiere of choreographer Helen Pickett’s Oasis, and revisiting Jiří Kylián’s classic Return to a Strange Land and Val Caniparoli’s Tutto Eccetto il Lavandino, the program offered a wide variety of musical and movement styles.

Reviewer Allan Ulrich of the San Francisco Chronicle called Pickett’s Oasis “a stirring and gorgeously dispatched” work, filled with “couples swirling their way from wing to wing.” Oasis “sets the pulse racing” with Emmy award-winning composer Jeff Beal’s “soaring score,” “the bubbly projections that emanate from Emma Kingsbury’s blue strip curtain and Nicholas Rayment’s lighting.” Ulrich also noted that “Pickett’s spiky classicism keeps the dancers engaged.”

Ann Murphy of the Mercury News called Oasis a “big-concept” ballet featuring “an evocative lighting design” by Rayment, costumes “elegantly decorated in geometric patterns” by Kingsbury, and a “big, lush score” from Beal. Jaime Robles of the Piedmont Post commented that Dance Series Two displayed “not only a new work but a whole new face, artistically and as a company.” Oasis offered “intensely lyrical movement” and “whirling waltzes,” both “refreshingly familiar and exotic.”

Heather Desaulniers of Critical Dance called Oasis “full cast, full throttle performances, full conceptual exploration through mesmerizing choreography.” Desaulniers noted the collaborative elements offered “a dance of true splendor” and a “mystical, intoxicating sequence” that marries “traditional and contemporary ballet with ingenuity and gumption.”

Ulrich called Arlette van Boven’s restaging of Jiří Kylián’s “elegiac modern classic” Return to a Strange Land (1975) an “impeccable and haunting revival,” and “the evening’s high point.” Desaulniers remarked on the “phenomenal (and daring) balances” closing each section of the ballet, the dancers weaving “tenderly and introspectively” through a “circuit of balances and picturesque tableaux.”

Murphy commented that Return to a Strange Land offered “chiseled austerity in taut and complex geometries,” complemented by “poignant piano works” and “moody, organic-hued lighting.” Robles said the “soaring” trios set to the music of Leoš Janáček show “the power of grief to inspire an artist to deep insights into physicality and human relationship.”

Desaulniers praised Val Caniparoli’s Tutto Eccetto Il Lavandino (2014) for its “elegant phrases,” and “unexpected infusions,” that display Caniparoli’s skill as a “choreographical mixologist.” Robles called the work “vast and diverse,” with an “absolutely five-star trio with Terez Dean, Weston Krukow and Robert Moore and a Celtic knot of a duet with Erica Felsch and Dustin James.”

Murphy commended the “witty, ingeniously crafted” Tutto Eccetto Il Lavandino, noting “the dancers move in seamless counterpoint,” celebrating “invention, relationships and sophisticated wit with wry gestures, beautiful formations and a warm humanity.

Dance Series Two continues through June 11 at five Bay Area venues. Order your tickets now!

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