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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Michael Smuin’s Zorro Is Smashing

Also see Richard's recent review of Mysterious Skin

Smuin’s dance company is presenting the world premiere of Michael Smuin’s sword fighting, whip cracking spectacular, Zorro, at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. Mr. Smuin (who won a Tony, a Drama Desk and a Fred Astaire award for Anything Goes, Tony nominations for Sophisticated Ladies, and choreographed Shogun and Canciones de mi Padre) has established himself and his company as the most stimulating ballet company in San Francisco. The dance company was founded in 1994, and each year the choreographer has obtained the best young talent in the dance field for his thought-provoking ballets.

Zorro
The Ticket Seller (Claudia Alfieri) resists the advances of the Theatre Owner (Easton Smith)
Zorro has been a California folk hero ever since Johnston McCalley’s wrote his novel “The Curse of Capistrano” in 1919 about the hero's adventures in early California. Many movies have been made of the champion of justice, including the classic Fox film The Mark of Zorro with Tyrone Power playing the title character. There has even been a gay Zorro with George Hamilton, who was a hoot.

Smuin's Zorro is about a hapless movie usher named Emilio (Shannon Hurlburt) who is in love with the gorgeous ticket seller Rosa (Claudia Alfieri). However, our timid hero is scared stiff of the malicious Theatre Owner (Easton Smith). Zorro (Rodolphe Cassand) leaps from the screen to instruct his hapless protégé in the fine art of love. We also see scenes of live swashbuckling from the Zorro movie as the masked marvel fights the injustice of Capt. Monastario (also Easton Smith). The ending is a wonderful scene in which Emilio duels the evil theater owner with umbrellas - a wonderful campy ending to a cartoon-like dance piece.

The ballet is presented in eleven scenes and runs a little less than a hour. We are treated to amazing dance movements that include flashing swordplay and romantic pas de duex. Every movement of this dance ensemble is meant to entertain. It is Broadway meets ballet in the greatest terms. This company never looked better than in this exciting piece of theatre.

Shannon Hurlbuert’s portrayal of Emilio is a combination of early vaudeville shtick and wonderful dancing. He brings a wonderful comic grace to Smuin’s jazz choreography. Rodolphe Cassand is a robust Zorro who really hams it up on the stage. His jumps and swordplay are spectacular. Claudia Alfieri as Rosa plays the role as an old fashioned melodrama character, but her dance movements are stylish. Easton Smith makes a charming villain, and his movements are elegant. Some of the dancing reminds me of West Side Story with music to match. The grouping of Spanish soldiers is hilarious slapstick.

Charles Fox's orchestra score that was taped is diverse, pulsating dance music reminiscent of Bernstein in the mambos and Prokofiev-like in the waltzes. It is a score of pure musical delight.

Ann Beck’s costumes are clever ’50s fashions that could be in Hairspray, and the sets by Douglas W. Schmidt are cartoon-like, changed at lightning speed. The cartoon-like opening and closing black and white “movie” is show stopping and it gets the approval from the audience. The scene involving a representation of popcorn munching fans is remarkable. Michael Smuin has created a fun-loving campy ballet that should be a staple in this young company's repertoire.

The Smuin ballet evening opens with Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. This is the second time that I have seen the company perform this thrilling dance piece. The one hour ballet is a series of solos, duets and choruses to Orff’s deconstruction of some very saucy medieval lyrics in Latin. There are nine dazzling scenes that steer away from avant guarde, aiming for just simplicity of the dance. The piece is danced to Michael Tilson Thomas’s sensual recording of Carmina Burana with the Cleveland Orchestra.

The dancers are marvelous, with prima ballerina Celia Fushille-Burke shining in many of the scenes. Her duets with Easton Smith are works of art. Shannon Hurlburt shows his exciting dancing in “Tanz.” Rodolphe Cassand also shows his incredible dance technique in several of the scenes. This is a gripping piece of theatre.

The double bill will continue at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts located at 700 Howard Street, San Francisco through May 17 with a gala benefit on May 18 at the theatre. For tickets call 415-987-2787 or visit www.smuinballet.org.


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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