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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Smuin Balletís production of
Frankie & Johnny is Sizzling Hot

Also see Richard's reviews of The Boys From Syracuse and the The Rules of Charity

Frankie & Johnny
Vanessa Thiessen and Pedro Gamino
World famous Smuin Ballet opens its spring season with a beautiful, balanced program of classic, modern and Broadway show-stopping ballets. The center attraction is the sumptuous mambo ballet, Frankie & Johnny, set to the pulsating rhythms of mambo kings like Tito Puente, Juan Luis Guerra, Perez Prado and the sexy voice of Celia Cruz. This is a perfect introduction to the upcoming Mambo Kings, which begins its pre-Broadway run later this month.

Smuin Balletís mambo madness once again has the great prima ballerina Celia Fushille-Burke reprising her role as the betrayed lover Frankie, with Jim Strong taking on the role of Johnny. Both are sensuous in their movements of the body. Shannon Hurlburt gives a stunning performance as the tango dancer. Vanessa Thiessen and Pedro Gamino perform a scorching, sexy duet dance. The male dancers have great masculine moves to the Latin beat. The elaborate set is also the star of the show, and looks like it is straight out of an MGM musical film. This is showbiz meets the ballet. Frankie & Johnny is fast and wonderfully entertaining.

Smuin Ballet also presents, on the same program, the West Coast premiere of Eliot Feldís Pacific Dances, a dreamy ten-dance suite by nine women en pointe, set to the lush Hawaiian slack-key guitar. This is the first piece staged by the ballet company by an outside choreographer.

Pacific Dances is more athletic than a classical ballet. It features ten women dressed in white bathing suits that look like they should be in an Esther Williams musical. These lovely, shapely ballerinas undulate constantly with long flowing arms, as if they are the white swans in Swan Lake. This piece features not only these lovely ladies with their graceful movements but a huge expanse of white silk parachute that billows and surges, manipulated by four men dressed in bathing suits looking like they came from the '20s. This amazing chute sometimes lingers overhead, fluttering beautifully, then comes to the floor, covering the complete stage to become ocean waves. The nymphs roll around on the silk as if swimming in the sea. In one sequence, the chute becomes a complete white outfit that looks like a butterfly with a dancer moving the billowing fabric. There is also a lovely scene with the dancers drifting across the stage with their pointed shoes gnawing at the floor like a flock of birds.

Rounding out this well balanced program is Michael Smuinís lovely classical ballet to Chant díAuvergne (Songs of the Auvergne). This sublime and elegant ballet features the entire cast of leading artists of the company. The songs of Joseph Canteboulbe, with the voices of Kiri Te Kanawa and Victoria de Los Angeles, and the orchestral sounds of both the English Chamber Orchestra and the Orchestre des Concerts Lamoureux along with the exquisite dancers are irresistible. The ballet has no story, but follows the daily life of the young people in a French village and the charm of their idealized, pastoral lives. There are playful flirtations, serious romantic feelings and animated lovers' jealousies. Celia Fushille-Burke, Shannon Hurlburt, Pedro Gamino, Amy Seiwert, John DeSerio, Robin Cornwell, Dalyn Chew, Katleena Opdyke, Jacquelyn Scafidi, Jessica Touchet, Nichole Trerise, Ethan White, David Strobbe, Lee Bell and Eric Yarbrough are outstanding in their movements.

Smuin Ballet Company is a great alternative to the internationally famous San Francisco Ballet. This program moves on to the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts , 400 Civic Center Drive, Walnut Creek from May 27th through May 28th then to the Mountain View Center for the Arts, 400 Castro Street, Mountain View from June 1 through June 5th. For tickets call 650-903-6000. For general information call 415-495-2234 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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