August 15, 2012 4:53 pm

Smuin Ballet, Joyce Theater, New York

The company founder’s work doesn’t stand up well – but pieces by Trey McIntyre and Amy Seiwert more than compensate
‘Oh, Inverted World’. Photo: David Allen©David Allen

‘Oh, Inverted World’. Photo: David Allen

The late Michael Smuin, San Francisco Ballet’s artistic director before establishing his own troupe in 1994, cheapened nearly everything he borrowed – and he borrowed widely. The props and histrionics in Medea – his one piece on the Joyce programme – nod to Graham, while the dry ice billowing from the murderess’s cape owes more to rock opera. Jason’s princess bride, whom with typical obviousness Smuin brings onstage, resembles a Balanchine soubrette minus the musicality that justifies her coy effects.

The audience loved it: this is what they had come for. But with the founder’s death five years ago, and given the imperative for new work to maintain an audience, the Smuin Ballet has become less Smuin. The result at the Joyce was an aesthetic jumble – and, for the likes of me, a big relief.

Trey McIntyre, whose own troupe is now the toast of Boise, has finally found a form for his whimsical, wide open, very American imagination. Taking its title and music from the Portland-based band The Shins, Oh, Inverted World is ballet’s answer to indie rock – The Shins’ kind, in which sweet, strummed melodies support vivid, ruminative lyrics. The dance imagines introspection as a way of being with others: a loose, unmannered communality.

Shrugs, shakes, and pops punctuate the movement as jangle and pluck do the melodies. These casual eruptions set off chain reactions through the body, the cluster of dancers, even the dance’s various sections, which McIntyre has strung together with unforced ingenuity.

After McIntyre’s gratifyingly slippery structure, Amy Seiwert’s Soon These Two Worlds seemed dully schematic at first. The Smuin resident choreographer either coupled up the dancers or segregated them by sex; the gestures seemed too pat in their allusions to the “pieces of Africa” in the accompanying excerpts from the Kronos Quartet album of the same name. But after a warm and spacious pas de deux, the social arrangements and the circles and squares the dancers drew in the air began to resonate. A wedding emerged. One column of dancers absorbed the man and another the woman, then the two columns braided together as in a folk dance. And the stage striated with dancers jumping up and opening their arms as if to hug the sun.

3 stars


Until Saturday, www.joyce.org

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