Nicole Trerise and John DeSerio in “The Lady Is a Tramp,” in Michael Smuin’s Fly Me to the Moon.
Photo by Tom Hauck, courtesy Carla Befera & Co.

Smuin Ballet
Skirball Center, NYU, New York, NY
August 9–13, 2005
Reviewed by Karyn D. Collins

 

Michael Smuin is a master of entertaining ideas. Throughout his career he has demonstrated a showman’s flair and a knack for eye-catching works. But Smuin’s choreography wears thin quickly. Five minutes of swooping lifts and bright smiles can be charming. Two hours gives one too much time to note its shortcomings: the predictable choreographic patterns, a lack of connection between dancers and between dancers and music.

Surely the concept of an evening of dance set to Frank Sinatra and George Gershwin contributed to the packed houses greeting the San Francisco-based company. The double bill offered an edited version of Smuin’s Dancin’ With Gershwin and the New York premiere of his Fly Me to the Moon.

Of the two works, Gershwin fares better, though it is not without its problems. Each Gershwin classic, interpreted by artists from Lena Horne to Fred Astaire to Peter Gabriel, creates its own tableaux; some make more sense than others. “Do It Again,” a tribute to Marilyn Monroe, is a witty delight, spoofing the Hollywood glamour acts from movie musicals. The adagio from Concerto in F, a mini-drama about two couples who change partners on the sly, suffers from cardboard characters and fake ardor. “Fascinatin’ Rhythm,” a tribute to Fred Astaire, is a clever duet for Vanessa Thiessen and David Strobbe, wielding canes and tap shoes. Unfortunately, they look like, well, ballet dancers trying to tap—stiff, overly careful, and laboring through elementary-level choreography.

The Sinatra tribute, unfortunately, amps up the clever and cute levels. Sinatra was one of the great interpreters of American pop standards. His voice could suggest a playful wink, a seductive come-on, a life of hard times, or the brash bravado of a playboy. Sadly, Smuin’s choreography merely skims the surface of these songs, and the dancers rarely reveal anything more than a broad smile and a game demeanor. In “That’s Life,”Shannon Hurlburt’s cool is overdone to the point of corniness. The part tap/part pointe adagio “The Way You Look Tonight” looks more Lawrence Welk than swinging cool. And the finale to “New York, New York,” with the entire cast high-kicking in snap-brim hats, is a groaner.

Fleeting moments of magic reveal a glimmer of what might have been; for example, Ethan White’s deadpan boredom opposite Robin Cornwell’s earnest (and exhausting) antics in “I Won’t Dance.” And you almost forget the choppiness of “Moonlight Serenade” when Celia Fushille-Burke and James Strong mesmerize you with a lingering look or a caress. But the banal and the humdrum snuff out these few flickers of brilliance. See www.smuinballet.org.

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Skylar Brandt's Taste in Music Is as Delightful as Her Dancing

American Ballet Theatre soloist Skylar Brandt's dancing is clean, precise and streamlined. It's surprising, then, to learn that her taste in music is "all over the place," she says. (Even more surprising is that Brandt, who has an Instagram following of over 80k, is "in the dark ages" when it comes to her music, and was buying individual songs on iTunes up until a year ago, when her family intervened with an Apple Music plan.)

Though what she's listening to at any given time can vary dramatically, the through-line for Brandt is nostalgia: songs that take her back, whether to childhood, a favorite movie or a piece she's recently performed. Brandt told us about her eclectic taste, and made us a playlist that will keep you guessing:

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NYCDA Is Redefining the Convention Scene Through Life-Changing Opportunities

Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.

"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."

Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.

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Courtesy The Joyce

Dance Magazine Chairman's Award Honoree: Linda Shelton

In an industry that has been clamoring for more female leadership, Linda Shelton, executive director of New York City's The Joyce Theater Foundation since 1993, has been setting an example for decades. As a former general manager of The Joffrey Ballet, U.S. tour manager for the Bolshoi Ballet, National Endowment for the Arts panelist, Dance/NYC board member and Benois de la Danse judge, as well as a current Dance/USA board member, Shelton has served as a global leader in dance. In her tenure at The Joyce, she has not only increased the venue's commissioned programming, but also started presenting beyond The Joyce's walls in locations such as Lincoln Center.

What brought you to The Joyce?

That was many years ago, but it's still the same today: It's a belief in and passion for the mission of the theater, which is to support dance in all of its forms and varieties—every kind of dance that you could imagine.

Diversity is so important in dance leadership today. How do you approach this at The Joyce?

Darren Walker said something interesting at a Dance/NYC Symposium, which was that The Joyce is a disruptor. It was nice to hear in that context, because we don't think of it as something new. We didn't have to change our mission statement to be more diverse. We've been doing this since day one.

Is drawing in new audiences and maintaining longtime supporters ever in conflict?

Of course. I call it the blessing and the curse of our mission. We do present more experimental companies that may attract a younger audience. But it's very tricky. You're not going to tell your long-term audience, "Don't come and see this because you're not going to like the music." We've had people walk out of the theater before, but it's a response. It's important to spark those conversations.

What experimenting have you done?

We've tried a "pay what you decide" ticket the past couple of seasons with some of our more adventurous programming. You would reserve your seat for a dollar and after seeing the show pay what you decide is right for you.

Do you have advice for other dance presenters?

Find opportunities to sit with colleagues from around the country. At Dance/USA there's a presenters' council where we come together and talk about what we're putting in our seasons and what we're passionate about. Maybe there are enough presenters to collaborate and make it possible to bring a company to New York or to do a tour around the country.

Also, remember what it's all about: making that connection between what's onstage and the audience. If we can do that, despite every visa issue and missed flight and injury and changed program and whatever else comes our way, then we should feel good about the job we're doing.

To purchase tickets to the Dance Magazine Awards or become a sponsor, visit dancemediafoundation.org.

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