Ballet bounces from Ol' Blue Eyes to Broadway
By Carol Egan
Special to The Advertiser
By Carol Egan
If you like to come out of a performance humming the tunes and feeling the urge to dance, the Smuin Ballet might be perfect for you.
Say the word "ballet" to the average American, and they'll conjure up visions of swans and tutus. In fact, the art has moved way beyond 19th-century images of dying peasant girls, exotic fairytale creatures and wayward fowl.
Judging from the publicity material, the Smuin Ballet will present an evening as far removed from swans and tutus as "West Side Story" is from "Romeo and Juliet." With flyers showing a sexy blonde resembling a cross between Sally Rand and Marilyn Monroe, and print ads that hint at a Fred-and-Ginger routine taking place below a sickle moon, we can expect a light, sexy and accessible evening of dance.
And with a program that includes "Fly Me to the Moon," an homage to Frank Sinatra featuring nine songs of Ol' Blue Eyes, and "Dancin' With Gershwin," set to a medley by one of America's greatest popular composers, the Smuin Ballet should have wide appeal.
Michael Smuin, the company's founder and artistic director, admits he likes to entertain. His long and varied career has included choreographing Broadway musicals, film and television, and even ice shows.
Smuin began as a dancer in the San Francisco Ballet before moving to New York and performing in Broadway musicals and with the American Ballet Theatre. In 1973, he returned to San Francisco to take over as director/choreographer for the San Francisco Ballet. As his career moves indicate, Smuin's tastes have vacillated between the classical and the contemporary.
"I go from huge extremes: from Gershwin to Dvorak, from Sinatra to Stravinsky. My problem is I like too much music," Smuin said in an interview from his San Francisco home.
His eclectic talent has earned numerous awards. Multiple Emmy Awards were bestowed for "Dance in America" performances of his works by the San Francisco Ballet, while his Broadway efforts garnered him prestigious awards for "Anything Goes" and a Tony nomination for best director and best choreographer for "Sophisticated Ladies."
Smuin's stint at the SF Ballet ended in 1985. Nearly a decade later, he founded his own company.
"Going from 65 dancers to 16 is quite a jump," he admits, adding, "I'm much happier with a smaller company and a smaller board. It's all much more manageable now. ... Now I have almost complete artistic freedom."
As for future plans, Smuin is putting the finishing touches on his 413th ballet, a new work set to Igor Stravinsky's "Symphony of Psalms," to be premiered in San Francisco in May. He looks forward to doing "just more of the same. Making dances for wonderful dancers."