From Brahms to Bluegrass


The Ballet is always beautiful. Photo by Smuin Ballet


It was almost exactly 5 years ago that Gail first went to the Smuin Ballet with a friend, while I was out of town.  That night, they performed Bluegrass/Slyde, a piece choreographed by Michael Smuin, that brought Gail to tears.  When I got home from my trip, she took me to Mountain View to see it again, and cried again.

Last week we went into the city to see the Smuin fall program, and Bluegrass/Slyde is back in the rotation.  Yes, there were tears this time too.

The performance was in a theater I didn’t even know existed, at the Palace of Fine Arts.  Very nice, very modern, with wide curving rows of seats not unlike the dome theater in Pleasant Hill.  How many more great venues are there for us to discover?  How has this one stayed hidden from me for so long?

The first piece is Brahms-Haydn Variations, also choreographed by Smuin.  It’s as classical as the company gets–toe shoes and all, but thankfully no tutus.

Next up was Oh, Inverted World, a world premiere dance choreographed by Trey McIntyre.  Set to music by The Shins, a group far too hip for me to have heard of them, the piece featured minimal costumes–everyone was in some sort of swimming outfit, with barechested boys and no shoes at all.  We went with Carol Sue Chuckery Tracy and husband Steve; Carol felt that the dance was narrative in form but we didn’t really get the sense of a story.

Lastly, Bluegrass/Slyde. The stage actually has “furniture”; a metal frame with 4 (5?) poles that are set in bearing so that they spin.  There are small round platforms on the bottom that spin along, as well.  The dancers, clad in black unitards, use the poles as an essential element, climbing, spinning, leaping and posing on them.  The music is all bluegrass, of course, but you won’t really recognize any of it–it’s more a mood item.  There are 7 parts: the 3rd part, Misty Moonlight Waltz, is the real heartbreaker, with a final pas de deux by Robin Cornwell and Jonathan Powell that will stay with you for some time.

My favorite dancer with the company, Aaron Thayer, is gone.  Silly boy is getting his  engineering degree from Stanford.  The world has too many engineers and too few really wonderful dancers, and who ever heard of an engineer with a decent sense of rhythm, anyway?  Fortunately, the Smuin has a deep reservoir of talent and the show goes on.

So we loved it.  Good thing, too, since I think that we will see this program again  in February when the Smuin is in Walnut Creek at the Lesher Center. You should go, and bring a handkerchief.

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