SMUIN IN MOUNTAIN VIEW: Dalyn Chew and Joral Schmalledance in Michael Smuin’s "Shinju," which was part of the program last weekin Smuin
SMUIN IN MOUNTAIN VIEW: Dalyn Chew and Joral Schmalle dance in Michael Smuin's "Shinju," which was part of the program last week in Smuin Ballet's annual Peninsula performance. (Ken Friedman)
WHY WAS I so disappointed?

I've been a big fan of the Smuin Ballet for years, looking forward to its regular appearances at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts.

I've loved its spirited, creative choreography — whether by Michael Smuin himself or others — and particularly the youthful enthusiasm of his stable of 16 young dancers.

But after opening night last week, I left rather empty. It's not that his current crop of dancers isn't up to previous standards, but perhaps it is the loss of some of his most charismatic regulars.

There is the now-retired Celia Fushille-Burke, as close to a prima ballerina as the company ever had; the versatile John DeSario; Easton Smith, who lent a sophisticated sexy touch to his pas de deux and the teenage wunderkind Roberto Cisneros, who seems to have wandered off to greener pastures in the East.

One new member does catch the eye. Kevin Yee-Chan shows great promise and may help regain that genuine over-the-top enthusiasm that so characterized the Smuin Ballet of old.

The centerpiece of the evening was "Shinju," a 1975 work by Smuin. It was framed, however, by two also-rans.

Smuin is admirable in opening the door for company members to contribute new ballets, and Amy Seiwert offered "Revealing the Bridge," which involved most of the company in its five segments.

My feeling was that her work was nothing new to the ballet vocabulary, only a rehash of already expressed classical movements, and rehash doth not a great new ballet make.


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This is especially true in the modern ballet era, where dance has become like a competitive sport, with companies around the globe competing with vocabularies of new movements that I never dreamed possible. I still look back with great wonder at the Sydney Ballet, appearing at Stanford Lively Arts several years ago, that blew my mind with its originality.

Locally, Ballet San Jose Silicon Valley, under Dennis Nahat, has been contributing stunning new material ranging from the utterly delightful "Blue Suede Shoes" based on the songs of Elvis Presley, to "Middle Kingdom-Ancient China," the most exquisitely staged dance in color, costume and set — even featuring dancers brought from the China — I have ever viewed.

So Michael Smuin's "Shinju," retelling a centuries- old tragic Japanese legend, fades by comparison, even though the impressive movements, based on Japanese Noh theater and Kabuki dance, are competently executed by most of the cast. In truth, considering Smuin created this one more than 30 years ago, it grows long in the tooth.

What happened to Smuin's great instinct for all-American fun, shown in his Christmas ballets and in "Zorro," that dashing throwback to the early days in movieland?

It certainly did not show in his final ballet of the evening, "Obrigado, Brazil," which is simply a running review of duets, trios and quartets to the tango, mariachi, bossa nova and other South American styles, staged in a subtropical setting.

Shaped by years of artistic viewing, my judgments may have descended into the subconscious because now my ultimate artistic gauge seems to be how many times I become unconscious during a program. For this ancient artistic warrior, this one rates as a three-doze event.

Come on, Michael! You can do better than this.