Monthly Archives: October 2010

Review: Smuin Ballet’s 2010-11 Fall/Winter Program

Smuin dancers Erin Yarbrough Stewart and Matthew Linzer in Trey McIntyre's world premiere, "Oh, Inverted World" at the Palace of Fine Arts. Photo credit: David Allen

These days, there are a lot of new choreographers, and there are a lot of new pieces being made. Very few however, linger. Trey McIntyre’s Oh, Inverted World is one that lingers.

On first look, it doesn’t seem very outlandish or flashy. Dancers are dressed in 70′s gym clothes, in flat shoes, engaged in athletic choreography. Set to the music of The Shins, the choreography reflects the sadness in the music’s energetic beats. Using deconstructed movements, and a lot of it, the action-packed choreography speaks of something familiar, with phrasing that breathes. In a duet with Erin Yarbrough-Stewart and Matthew Linzer, the physical sparring is immediately interrupted by a surprising intimate moment in stillness – standing behind Yarbrough-Stewart, Linzer places his cheek on hers. Her arms flutter up in surprise, as the music marches on. The quiet moment is sudden, awkward, surprising, and heart catching. The final monologue danced by Smuin newcomer Travis Walker is a powerful tour de force. Caught in a world that’s confusing, frightening, heartbreaking, and beautiful, Walker danced with arresting surrender and abandon. Nothing about this piece seems new or groundbreaking – reminiscent, almost – but it quietly hits at the heart.

Smuin dancer Travis Walker in Trey McIntyre's world premiere, "Oh, Inverted World," at the Palace of Fine Arts. Photo credit: David Allen

Two Michael Smuin pieces rounded out the program. The Smuin dancers’ added a touch of elegance to the evening with the neoclassical Brahms-Haydn Variations. Smuin Ballet’s strength isn’t in the realm of classical ballet, but it was still a classy display. One of the limitations of using taped music is that it can be relentless in terms of tempo especially during the fast sections. But dancer Jessica Touchet kept up with a touch of flair in her solo. The evening ended with Smuin’s Bluegrass/Slyde. Thankfully, not a cowboy hat was in sight. Smuin captures the emotion in each song by Edgar Meyer and Bela Fleck. The bright red industrial sets were a little too incongruent with the music, reminding me of the 80′s. Three spinning poles are used deftly by the dancers to represent the lazy drawl in the music. Smuin creates interesting patterns between groups of people reflecting different countermelodies in the music. Ryan Camou was an audience favorite, a shot of energy amidst the sea of sass and attitude.

The company in Smuin Ballet's BLUEGRASS/SLYDE by Michael Smuin. Photo credit: Tom Hauck

The Smuin Ballet’s Fall/Winter Program ends today at the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre. The program will repeat in Mountain View, Walnut Creek, and Carmel in February 2011. Click here for more information.

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Review: 2010 San Francisco Symphony at the Mondavi Center

Principal clarinet for the San Francisco Symphony Carey Bell

The San Francisco Symphony brought their “French Classics Program with MTT” to the Mondavi Center last night for their annual trek to the Mondavi Center. The wife of late Robert Mondavi, Margrit Mondavi, made her enthusiastic appearance as she waved to the audience that sells out every year for this special annual concert. There was this special appreciation in the air for a world-class symphony coming this far out east to play for an audience who only gets an opportunity to hear them once a year.

Michael Tilson Thomas was the debonair leader in directing a program of works by Ravel, Debussy, and Berlioz. Although I wouldn’t classify these pieces as “classics”, the theme of an all-French program seems like a good one with an obvious common thread. However, the presented pieces sounded very similar to my ears. No wonder, as the pieces were written within 1839 – 1909, with the first half of the program ranging from works written within 20 years, from 1809 – 1909. The first half of the concert sounded especially similar in style. Ravel’s Rapsodie espagnole was a mixed bag of influences, with dissonance, Spanish and jazz influences, enshrouded in mystery and sudden contrasts. Debussy’s Premiere Rapsodie for Clarinet and Orchestra and Fantasisie for Piano and Orchestra were all studies of singing, shimmery melodies and sharp contrasts, where lush melodies with longing dissonances prevailed. By the time that pianist Jean-Frederic Neuburger took the stage in the Fantaisie, my ears had grown so used to the style that it was hard not to think of the first half of the concert as one long piece. Berlioz’s Scenes forRomeo et Juliette, Op. 17, was a nice welcome change after the intermission, with more heft and angst and gorgeous melodies, with an especially lovely hymn in the violas and cello section. It did seem to drag on a bit, however, and pacing appeared to be a problem throughout the whole concert especially in the slow sections.

Despite a program that was less varied than I liked, it was clear that this was a very special night. The symphony has never sounded better, playing with a thrilling sense of energy and life. If there’s one thing that Michael Tilson Thomas does well, he does loud, rollicking sections with relish and a great sense of fun. Carey Bell is a gem, one of San Francisco’s best. Although the Debussy piece wasn’t the best showcase for his talents, Bell caught everyone’s attention with breathless control and lively virtuosity. His sense of unity with the orchestra clearly comes from a place of familiarity with the group. Pianist Jean-Frederic Neuburger played with a pleasing brightness, holding his own above the sounds of the orchestra.

The audience clearly appreciated the presence of an amazing orchestra coming out to tour at the Mondavi Center, with symphony members reaching out to the community earlier in the day to teach master classes at the university and high school orchestras. It’s a special relationship with the symphony and the Mondavi Center that I hope will only get stronger in the future.

The concert plays through Sunday back in San Francisco at the Davies Symphony Hall. Click here for more information.