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Robert Abrams
Performance Reviews
The Joyce Theater
United States
New York City
New York
New York, NY

Smuin Ballet - Stabat Mater and Dancin' with Gershwin

by Robert Abrams
August 16, 2003
The Joyce Theater
175 Eighth Avenue (at the corner of 19th Street)
New York, NY 10011

Smuin Ballet - Stabat Mater and Dancin' with Gershwin

presented at The Joyce Theatre


Robert Abrams
August 16, 2003

Stabat Mater

This tribute to 9/11 was an elegant, mournful ballet counterpointed by the bright colors of the costumes. The set was what appeared to be a projection onto a backdrop. The setting might have been the exposed walls of The Bathtub, as the part of the foundation of the World Trade Center site that holds back the river is known, or columns of ash. The choreography communicated its message of sorrow and community without being didactic. There was something reminiscent of Greek tragedy in its mix of seriousness of purpose with entertainment.

At its core, this dance is a love story framed by the constant motion of eight dancers. The line of the story, very loosely, consists of an empty square of light framed by dancers, the arrival of a male dancer, much dancing, the departure of the male dancer through a gap in the grey wall, and finally an empty square of light. The narrative was spare but clear. The male dancer could have represented someone specific - a broker at Cantor Fitzgerald or a dishwasher at Windows on the World - but this most likely would have made the dance less effective as a mirror for the audience to reflect on their own experience of that day and the days the followed.

The movements were fluid, but composed. The dancers showed off some nice sustained holds characteristic of modern dance, but otherwise this work was strictly ballet. The dancers had an impressive ability to fall from a great height. Their technique was very solid. They carried themselves like a first rate ballet company.

Betting on the future's Canon is a fool's game, but I feel that Stabat Mater has a good chance of becoming a classic.

Choreographer: Michael Smuin. Composer: Antonin Dvorak. Lighting Design: Sara Linnie Slocum. Costume Design: Ann Beck. Set Design: Alexander V. Nichols. Dancers: Sarah Barber-Wilson, Easton Smith, Galina Alexandrova, Rodolphe Cassand, Nicole Trerise, John DeSerio, Robin Cornwell, Lee Bell, Pedro Gamino, Amy Seiwert, Shannon Hurlburt.

Dancin' with Gershwin

And now for something completely different…

A series of short works were presented set to many songs written by George and Ira Gershwin. The dances included ballroom influenced, waltz-like ballets (with a woman in yellow, no less), tap routines done in the old school, upright, pre-1950s gentlemen's style, breezy summertime romance in pink and orange pastels, a ballet with a Spanish feel (especially in the carriage of the energetic young dancer's hands), a ballet with rolling office chairs, a kick line, and ample use of feather fans in a Marilyn Monroe/Busby Berkeley type number. The quality of the technique matched the quality of the inventiveness. For instance, there was a particularly nice landing from a dramatic leaping spin. The partnering, especially at the beginning of Act II of the Gershwin section, was very refined. The dancers were clearly having fun. Taken together, the Gershwin works were very entertaining, and could provide a bridge between audiences of Broadway and of the Ballet.

Between St. Louis Woman and this season at the Joyce (unfortunately cut short by the blackout), Michael Smuin has shown that he is a choreographer to watch.

Choreographer: Michael Smuin. Composers: George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin. Costume Design: Willa Kim. Lighting Design: Sara Linnie Slocum. Dancers: Celia Fushille-Burke, Easton Smith, Vanessa Thiessen, John DeSerio, Sarah Barber-Wilson, David Strobbe, Amy Seiwert, Lee Bell, Nicole Trerise, Rodolphe Cassand, Shannon Hurlburt, Roberto Cisneros, Pedro Gamino, Galina Alexandrova, and Robin Cornwell.

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