Smuin’s Dance Series 01: A bouquet to love

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Love is center stage in Smuin’s Dance Series 01, which opened this past weekend at the Dean Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek. Romantic love is viewed in different and startling ways in three pieces by contemporary choreographers in this delightful program that celebrates the company’s 24th year.

Denver–based choreographer Garrett Ammon opens the evening with a light and spirited series of duets and ensembles set to Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings, the admired lyrical composition best known for its Valse section. The music was also the basis for Balanchine’s Serenade, a piece admired for its delicate romanticism. But Ammon presents a different look at the music and the emotions it conjures. Five couples weave through a series of duets that glide and turn through the music, giving its most somber moments a frisson of joy and young love. It’s hard not to smile during the ballet – something difficult to achieve in response to the Russian composer’s sweetly melancholic work. Playful it is, however: born out of movements that are lightly athletic and spiced with a theatrical game of playful seduction. Girls shake their fluffy short skirts and boys are happy to fall on the floor and gaze up at them in admiration.

Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Requiem for a Rose moves deeply into the mystery of love. Smuin’s performance marks the West Coast premiere of a piece that was commissioned for the Pennsylvania Ballet’s 2009 season. The Belgian-Colombian choreographer is currently based in Amsterdam, but her international career has her creating dancers for some 40 companies, including New York City Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, Ballet Hispanico, the Dutch National Ballet and The Royal Ballet of Flanders.

Lopez Ochoa says that the idea for the ballet was based on an event in her teens when a man sent her a dozen red roses. Beautiful though they were, the roses faded rapidly, souring into the opposite of their original splendor. According to Lopez Ochoa she set the ballet to Schubert’s String Quintet in C major because it “is the most romantic music I know.” The piece catches that sense of love as both vibrancy and disappointment. But even more, there is a mythic quality to the piece’s theater.

When the curtain opens the stage is completely dark except for a single white spot shining down from immediately overhead onto a solitary dancer. Red spotlights create a field of red around the white. Costumed in a white leotard with her long pale unloosed and hanging down from her bowed head, Erica Felsch is the quintessence of the ghostly and unreal. When she looks up she is holding a rose in her mouth, but not like Carmen, with the stem placed horizontally in her teeth. Rather the rose is face front, as if its stem ran down her throat, growing outward rising up from her heart. The solo she dances is centered under the brilliant spots, combining a sinuous balletic movement with a touch of barefoot modern.

A series of duets follow, and there is something coolly intellectual within the passions of the dance.  Perhaps fitting with Lopez Ochoa’s claim that she is “not a romantic woman at all.” Both male and female dancers are costumed in densely red skirts, the folds multiple like those of inverted roses. The men are bare-chested, the women in flesh-colored sleeveless leotards and en pointe. Their fluid movements end in ensemble with the soloist raised high, exalted like our desires. And like Ochoa’s own clear love of dance.

The program ended with the ever-popular Fly Me to the Moon, Michael Smuin’s 2004 tribute to Frank Sinatra and the glamor of American ’50s love.

A fascinating program, which stretched and played to the company’s talents, Dance Series 01 will be playing at San Francisco Palace of Fine Arts until October 7. For information and tickets, visit

– Jaime Robles

Photo: Erica Felsch in Annabelle Lopez Ocha’s Requiem for a Rose. Photo by Keith Sutter.