“The Best of Smuin”: A Tribute to the Company’s Founder

        In his program letter for the very first performance of the newly formed Smuin Ballets/SF, Michael Smuin wrote: “The real vehicle of expression for a choreographer is a company of his own to work with, and that is what I am creating in 1994. The vision I have is of a lean and agile dance company: top dancers, each a charismatic principal soloist in his or her own right…We  are launching a venture that I hope will be a proud, new jewel in San Francisco’s cultural crown.” Twenty-five years later, Smuin’s eponymous company continues to tour around the Bay Area, remaining, as Michael boasted, “artistically superb and always entertaining.” For “The Best of Smuin,” Artistic Director Celia Fushille looked back through Michael’s extensive choreographic archive, choosing excerpts that show the full breadth of his artistry. The Company’s original ballet, Dances with Songs, was a series of short dances choreographed to popular songs, ranging from “Ave Maria” (now a part of The Christmas Ballet) to “Fever.” But Michael did not limit himself. He was equally at home with classical music (Bach) as with pop (Gershwin), and with storytelling (Frankie & Johnny) as with abstraction (Very Merrily, Verdi). The Best of Smuin is a tribute to Michael and to the company he founded. It is also a snapshot of the Company’s DNA.

        Despite losing its visionary founder, the Company has not lacked for vision. Michael was particularly committed to presenting world premieres, as well as work that pushed the boundaries of what could be defined as ballet. For Smuin’s 10th anniversary in 2004, Michael commissioned a work from then-dancer Amy Seiwert. Following her retirement, Fushille named her Choreographer in Residence, a position she held through 2018. Now, 20 years after she joined the Company as a dancer in 1999, Seiwert returns to create her 13th work for Smuin.

        Seiwert spent a decade as Choreographer in Residence, which allowed her to forge bonds with the Company dancers. “To be back in the studio with them is like breathing—  we know each other’s styles really well,” Seiwert said. Like Michael before her, ballet technique is at the heart of Seiwert’s choreography, which toes the line between ballet and contemporary dance. Stylistically though, Michael and Seiwert’s work is very different. Someone once asked Seiwert if she had “ever considered being more like Michael.” Later recounting this to Michael,   his response was, “Does she know you’re doing really well just being yourself?”

        At the quarter-century mark, Smuin is fully established in the Bay Area. The Company is, at heart, the same one Michael founded in 1994. The words Smuin seeks to represent—entertaining, whimsical, evocative, original, innovative, creative—are all words that applied to Michael as well. Thank you for being a part of Michael’s venture. It’s been a wonderful ride so far, and there’s a bright future ahead. Cheers to 25!

** Written by Ellen Gaintner, Smuin’s Special Projects Manager

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Catch Smuin’s upcoming performances in the Bay Area with the premiere of our Dance Series 02 program! This program features The Best of Smuin, including many of Company Founder Michael Smuin’s most cherished works, as well as a world premiere from former Choreographer in Residence Amy Seiwert. Learn more here. 

2019-04-11T13:37:20-08:00

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