Smuin Dance Series 01

Smuin_Serenade-for-Strings-3_Keith-Sutter (1)

By Scott MacClelland

OF ALL THE AUDIENCES I regularly join at Sunset Center, none displays more enthusiasm than the one for Smuin Dance. The company’s appearance on Saturday afternoon, the last in its Dance Series 01 tour this season, dazzled—they always get that adjective from me—in a program that ranged from the sublime to the silly, from the mischievous choreography by Garrett Ammon of Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings, to a ritualistic and ecstatic work by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa of a movement from Schubert’s String Quintet in C, to Michael Smuin’s evergreen Fly Me to the Moon, a Frank Sinatra homage first staged in 2004.*

The company of ten dancers opened Serenade for Strings in off-white pale colors—the men wore dark trousers—lit from the wings. (Above photo by Keith Sutter.) The piece entered Smuin’s repertoire in 2014, having been premiered the year before at Wonderbound in Denver. There was whimsy throughout, with small provocative gestures of hands and feet among a whole kit of clever bits. (Men lying supine on the stage upskirting the embarrassed women was a new one on me.) Tchaikovsky’s piece is in four movements, the first, in the form of a sonatina, beginning and ending with a formal striding bit that is recalled at the end for the last movement as well. For that, Ammon has his dancers assume a more ceremonial style. Otherwise its fun and games. In the third movement, Elegy, he inserts elements from classical ballet. The finale, Tema russo, runs with riotous good cheer. Featured pairs were Erica Felsch and Robert Kretz, Erica Chipp-Adams and Mengjun Chen, Valerie Harmon and Dustin James, Terez Dean and Rex Wheeler.

Lopez Ochoa’s Requiem for A Rose premiered in 2009 at Pennsylvania Ballet. See her lucid backstory in preparation for Smuin’s production.







The piece opened with Erica Felsch as the solo Venus, in white with a red rose clenched in her teeth, and subtle clouds of fog in the air above the stage. Heavy percussive pulsing sound effects provided accompaniment. Soon she was joined by 12 dancers, all in rose-red kilts, the men bare-chested, the women in skin-colored tops, for a sequence of four duets and one quartet. The almost-religious long slow Adagio from Schubert’s Quintet inspired a ritualistic character to the dance. Key lights were used to enhance the dance pairs Valerie Harmon and Oliver-Paul Adams, Terez Dean and Dustin James, Erica Chipp-Adams and Robert Kretz, and Nicole Haskins and Ben Needham-Wood. For the highly turbulent, even ecstatic, central section quartet, Lauren Pschirrer was joined by Mengjun Chen, Jonathan Powell—who would retire from Smuin after eight years following this performance—and Rex Wheeler. For me, this was the highlight of the program, lushly romantic but disturbing, intense and haunting.

The concert ended with Michael Smuin’s fabulous Fly Me to the Moon, 35 minutes of that great voice in nine of his hit songs, prefaced by an “overture” that nicked recognizable bits into a pastiche. Now the previously black backdrop was sprinkled with stars. A crescent moon was added for “Fly Me to the Moon” (Mengjun Chen, Valerie Harmon, Erica Felsch and Nicole Haskins) and “Moonlight Serenade.” (Erica Felsch and Jonathan Powell.) The company began with “You and the Night and the Music,” the men in trousers and vests and The Chairman’s familiar fedoras, the women in a variety of colors. Lauren Pschirrer and Dustin James then took “I’ve Got You under My Skin,” followed by Erica Chipp-Adams and Oliver-Paul Adams in “The Way You Look Tonight.” The company joined Valerie Harmon and Rex Wheeler for “The Lady is a Tramp,” with Nicole Haskins dancing and Robert Kretz just standing for “I Won’t Dance.”

Michael Smuin, dancer, choreographer and entertainer, always loved to surprise his audiences, and there is plenty of such tweaking here—provoking laughter along the way—but his classical training remains the bedrock of his work.

Robert Kretz soloed in “That’s Life,” and the company rounded out the pageant with “New York, New York.” Did I mention the enthusiasm of the audience? It went bananas!

*The entire dance world was shocked by the sudden death of Michael Smuin in 2007 from an apparent heart attack at the age of 68.

Choreographer’s Showcase


By Scott MacClelland

NOW IN ITS 21ST SEASON, SpectorDance’s Choreographer’s Showcase returned to studios in Marina on the weekend with new works by eight choreographers. Take Arick Arzadon: this guy, a product of the Monterey Peninsula, is small in physical stature but ginormous in talent. (Above, he’s the center of attention in the Pacific Repertory production of The Pirates of Penzance.) He sings, writes songs, acts on stage, dances and choreographs. His bio says he’s been performing since elementary school. He co-choreographed West Side Story at Monterey High. He’s appeared in productions at PacRep, The Western Stage, Forest Theater and Monterey Peninsula College. He has studied ballet, jazz and modern dance with Deanna Ross and Walter White. At UC Irvine he collected more experience in the Claire Trevor Art Dance Dept. His stage roles have included The Artful Dodger, Zuko, Sonny (in TWS’ From the Heights) and Rodrigo (in Othello). Musically, he has worked with Fourty4B and the Jinxes.

For this show, he choreographed and sang (lip-synched?) Do You Know?, a hip-hop knock-off, mostly told in symmetrical patterns, that he danced with colleagues.

He also took a recurring solo role in “And All That Jazz” to music selected from the soundtrack of the hit-movie Chicago. With high-energy period choreography by Callie Dailey, Camrin Dannelly and Melissa Karasek, AKA The Carmel Delights Dance Company, it called on nine dancers, including the aforementioned. They and Arzadon, all Monterey-area talent, made a vividly eclectic impression.

Karasek, not a fragile flower, was irrepressible, as apparently she has been her entire life, with dance productions from elementary school through university, from Pacific Grove to Salinas, to San Jose and, now, a dance teacher at SpectorDance. Her “Man in the Mirror,” to the Michael Jackson song, was designed as a duo but in the Sunday afternoon performance, she danced it solo, explaining that her partner, Carissa Ratliff, had been sidelined by an injury.

Camrin Dannelly danced her own solo to Nina Simone’s haunting “Let It Be Me” with four easels and a chair as props. She too has been dancing since childhood and has choreographed many local dance company productions.

Jess Harper & Dancers, originally from St. Louis, was represented in the opening Time to Tang, a whimsical duo danced by Anthony Languren and Katelyn Martin, both wearing copiously long red skirts complemented by black tops. Their work evoked guffaws and giggles in the audience. They returned in the second half, now with Bailey Johnson, for …and it continues to a start-stop drum solo by John Carbone. Wearing brown, the dancers followed the soundtrack. Harper concocted a clever design that imitated—sort of—“The Twelve Days of Christmas” by starting different entrances with the same or similar gestures, though it wasn’t a slave to that trick.

When the guest choreographers introduced themselves at the start of the program, Mariah Steele, artistic director of Quicksilver Dance, now based in Oakland, explained that her piece, excerpted from the larger Children of Hobbes, was inspired by an infamous Thomas Hobbes ‘social contract’ quote in Leviathan, that “…the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish and short.” Four dancers, apparently representing adolescent girls, engaged in an often-sullen manipulation of one another. At 25-minutes, this was the longest piece of choreography on the program. Frankly, over-long. Further, it didn’t bear a clear connection to the chosen music. I got the intensity of it but struggled to find any real coherency.

Sarah Hardcastle, choreographer with Tracy Kofford’s Santa Barbara City College Dance Company, put on a stunner of a piece called Inside Myself. To music by the film composer Zbigniew Preisner, seven female dancers, wearing white gowns (petticoats?) with flaring skirts performed a ritual of symmetries and symbolism. They first appeared as six—three pairs—with the seventh concealed under the costumes only to later emerge like a menacing specter, a kind of solitary doppelganger. The troop remained vertical, only to fall dramatically to the floor.

The program ended with the same company, this time choreographed by Shelby Lynn Joyce, in aletheia, with eight women and three men forming groups, bigger and smaller, in symmetries and duos. The title means ‘not hidden.’ At just four minutes duration, this piece of graceful beauty could well have lasted twice as long.