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Smuin Ballet - Schubert Scherzo, Bells of Dublin, Shinju, Obrigado, Brazil

by Robert Abrams
August 18, 2007
The Joyce Theater
175 Eighth Avenue (at the corner of 19th Street)
New York, NY 10011
212-242-0800
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Schubert Scherzo was a classical palette cleanser en pointe. It was not radical or daring, but was pleasant and well danced, and as such was a good way to bring the audience off of the street. The music was enjoyable too. Some details worth noting: The full spectrum lighting made the dancers pop (the white costumes stood out against the color gradient backdrop). There was a great lift with a twist. I thought the dancers were graceful with a nice unity. The leaps soared. There was a well balanced extended spin. The final move, where one dancer was tossed to a dancer behind her into a lift, was impressive.

Choreography by Michael Smuin
Music by Franz Schubert
Costume design by Michael Smuin
Lighting design by Michael Oesch
Dancers: Robin Cornwell and Aaron Thayer, Jessica Touchet and Kevin Yee-Chan, Olivia Ramsay and Ikolo Griffin, Amy Seiwert and Matthew Linzer, Courtney Hellebuyck and Ethan White


Bells of Dublin was a tap dance number to bells and other Irish music. The tapping and the music fit together well musically. Shannon Hurlburt's upper body was fairly still, which is a characteristic of Irish dancing. He was clearly having fun. I thought this number was new in subtle ways. It is worth a second look and a pint of Guinness or Harp.

Choreography by Michael Smuin
Music by The Chieftans
Costume design by Michael Smuin
Lighting design by Sara Linnie Slocum
Lighting adapted by Michael Oesch
Dancer: Shannon Hurlburt


Shinju is a difficult work. I think the first two numbers may have helped people ease into this one. It combines a clearly visible underlayer of classical ballet with Noh and Kabuki. There are angular steps and long stillnesses that create discomfort. The costumes, music and movement quality each make the dance seem strange. However, when each is considered on its own, they do not seem so strange. My viewing of this dance made it clear to me that the distance between the familiar and the unfamiliar can be short indeed.

This work was just as well danced as the others. For instanced, dancers performed balanced spins on one foot.

The program notes talked about how this dance was about two lovers who are thwarted. That much was clear, but some of the details about why the lovers were thwarted escaped me. I suspect that this is partly because of the dance's cultural roots, there is likely a symbolic level that I missed. For instance, the man in the couple struggles against a couple dressed in purple. Who are the purple people and why are they trying to thwart him? And who are the men in red velvet ropes worn like bandoliers? Who are the men in the little hats? What is the significance of the butterflies?

The dance has impact even if you don't understand everything that is going on. For instance, the lovers come on stage towards the end in flowing outfits that suggest a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis. They kneel, half stripped, and kill each other with knives and a final kiss. The final scene, and the dance as a whole, left me wanting to know more about what was going on. Smuin Ballet left me wanting to see Shinju again.

I also think this ballet has real potential to be used in inter-cultural education.

My grandmother, who attended the show with me, thought Shinju was terrific. She thought they knew what they were doing with every gesture. It was different from anything she had seen on stage before (and she has seen a lot). It gave her chills.

Choregraphy by Michael Smuin
Music by Paul Chihara
Decor and Costume design by Willa Kim
Original Lighting design by Jennifer Tipton
Lighting adapted by Sara Linnie Slocum
Staged by Anita Paciotti, Shannon Hurlburt and Sarah Barber-Wilson
Dancers: Lovers - Erin Yarbrough-Stewart and Aaron Thayer, Wife - Robin Cornwell, Wife's Father - Robert Sund, Male companions - Ikolo Griffin, Ethan White, Female Companions - Nicole Trerise, Amy Seiwert, Bandits - Shannon Hurlburt, Kevin Yee-Chan, James Mills, People in Black - Olivia Ramsay, Jessica Touchet


Obrigado, Brazil was another fusion, this time of classical ballet and Latin social dance. The work, which was a series of eight short numbers, had a tropical setting with bright colors, bright music and bright uplifting choreography. It was very playful. The costumes and music suggested Brazil, but the choreography was mostly classical ballet softened by the Latin rhythms and movements. When the dancers went deeply into the Latin side of the choreography, their movements were fast and finished. Smuin Ballet sent the audience off with a last section of this dance that featured some cool sillouettes and passionate dancing.

Choreography by Michael Smuin
Music recorded by Yo-Yo-Ma, Cesar Camargo Mariano, Rosa Passos, Nilson Matta, Cyro Baptista, Carlo Braga, Kathryn Stott, Romero Lubambo, Sergio and Odair Assad, Oscar Castro-Neves, Helio Alves, Paulo Braza
Produced, arranged and conducted by Jorge Calandrelli
Music Transcription by Anna-Katharina Karney
Costume design by Ann Beck
Lighting design by Michael Oesch
Dancers: The company
Section titles: Cristal, A Lenda do Caboclo, Dansa Brasileira, Doce de Coco, 1 x 0 (Um a Zero), O Amor em Paz, Brasileirinho


In sum, Smuin Ballet gave the audience dancing to please and dancing to challenge. As you may know, Michael Smuin, the founder of the company, recently passed away. Here's hoping his choreography and his company find a way to continue. And if they can find multiple ways to invite the audience in, they will make an excellent company even better.
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