Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

Smuin Ballet presents an Exotic
Obrigado, Brazil

Also see Richard's reviews of Dessa Rose and Thoroughly Modern Millie

Shannon Hurlburt,
Erin Yarbourough and
David Strobbe

The Bay Area's own internationally acclaimed dance company Smuin Ballet began its 2006-07 season with the world premiere of Michael Smuin's colorful Obrigado, Brazil. The talented company utilizes classical, samba, and bossa nova dance vocabulary set to a recording of vibrant South American music performed by Yo-Yo Ma and an all-star ensemble of Brazilian musicians. The ballet is part Broadway/Hollywood musical combined with classical ballet.

Obrigado, Brazil is set on stage that looks like it came from one of Fox's indoor musical lots. The colors are brilliant Technicolor hues and the dancers are in colorful costumes. The eight dance scenes are pleasant and sometimes raunchy with a lot of hip swaying. Outstanding is the sensual dancing of Erin Yarbourough, Shannon Hurlburt and David Strobbe to Jaco do Bandolim's "Doce de Coco." The "O Amor em Paz" is beautifully danced by Jessica Touchet, Ethan White, Olivia Ramsay and Kevin Yee-Chan to the music of Antonio Carlos John and Vinicius de Moraes. There is a charming, flirtatious duet between Courtney Hellebuyck and James Strong to the music of Heitor Villa-Lobos. There were times when I wished I could join the dancers.

Michael Smuin also presents another world premiere ballet piece called Revealing the Bridge based on Claude Monet's 1922 masterpiece The Japanese Bridge. The nine scenes are choreographed by dancer Amy Seiwert to a score based on Michael Nyman's String Quartet No. 2. Each scene is composed with one melody that is written in 4/4, 5/4, 6/8, 7/4 and 9/8 time. The music sounds like a minor Philip Glass or John Adams.

Ms. Seiwert starts out on a silent note with two dancers Erin Yarbourough and Aaron Thayer intertwined. The melting of their bodies together is amazing to watch. The whole company then comes out in mechanical precision to a 4/4 melody. The five scenes are challenging to this group of extraordinary dancers and they rise to the occasion. The company moves at a brisk pace in short scenes to give the pure ballet technique a chance to shine.

Michael Smuin also brings back his 1975 piece called Shinju. This is a Japanese word meaning mutual suicide agreement by lovers. The ballet is based on an 18th century play by Japanese playwright Chikamatsu Monzaemon about a romantic and tragic Japanese legend thousand of years old. The theme revolves around two lovers whose match is thwarted by sinister, metaphysical forces. The music is by Paul Seiko Chihara, employing wood blocks, wind instruments and chanting with modern Western orchestration. The electronic score is on top of the traditional music form.

Vanessa Thiessen and James Strong are striking as the pair of prohibited lovers who have trouble with the wife, father-in-law, friend and even a band of bandits with sticks. All is seen through Kabuki-type tableaus. All of the dances relate to that Japanese style of movement with athletic dancing, particularly during the fighting of the bad guys with sticks.

Smuin's Ballet opening season played at the Palace of Fine Arts, Bay and Lyon Street, San Francisco through October 15. This program will be repeated at the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts, Walnut Creek on February 9-10, 2007, at the Sunset Center, Carmel, February 16-17 and Mountain View Center for Performing Arts, February 21-25. Phone number for subscriptions please call 415-978-2787 The Smuin Ballet will once again re-invent its beloved Holiday Tradition The Christmas Ballet, 2006 Edition opening on November 24-25 at the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts, Civic & Locust Street, Walnut Creek. They will also play in Mountain View, Carmel and San Francisco. For complete schedule, please go to

Photo: Tom Hauck

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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