IN ITS staging of Michael Smuin's choreography to the music of Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana" at the Mountain View Center for the Preforming Arts last week, Smuin Ballet's bereaved company of dancers could not have paid their late leader a greater personal tribute.

The piece was a superb, flawless execution of some very intricate, ugly and awkward movements, turning them into things of emotional beauty. This may be the best dance company Smuin has ever put together and its best performance of this work.

The death of Smuin at 68 in April is an incalculable loss to the national dance world. He was an American original.

He was a complete artist, comfortable in choreographing movements from the most traditional to the wildest modern. His blending of show-biz staging, classical dance and free-wheeling modern steps combined with upbeat story lines and the ability to keep work or performers from becoming "artsy snooty" has fostered a unique American take on world dance.

Can one ever forget his swashbuckling "Zorro," his tongue-in-cheek "Frankie and Johnny" or his whimsical Christmas shows?

Paraphrasing Garrison Keillor in describing Lake Wobegon, "In Smuinland, the boys are strong and the girls are beautiful." I could add buff, athletic, shapely, sexy and willing to attack the toughest stuff he threw at them, while radiating an enthusiasm that draws the audience into the act. Everyone is having fun.


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In the opening dance sequence, the world premiere of his latest, the "Schubert Scherzo," Smuin, may have written for us his eulogy, a compendium of typical movements from his own developed vocabulary.

As usual he choreographed the steps, designed the costumes and designed the lighting. It surprises me that he let Franz Schubert write the music.

"Schubert Scherzo" is vintage Smuin: creative, joyful, vivacious, unaffected, athletic and with traditional movements modulated by the modern. It was, also, an early indicator for me of this current company's strength.

There are the previous regulars: Robin Cornwell, Shannon Hurlburt, Olivia Ramsay, Amy Seiwert, David Strobbe, James Strong, Aaron Thayer, Vanessa Thiessen, Jessica Touchet, Nicole Trerise, Ethan White and Erin Yarbrough.

Joining them are Ikolo Griffin, Courtney Hellebuyck, James Mills and Kevin Yee-Chan, a replacement in my heart for the departed teenage star Roberto Cisneros.

As usual, this is a company of such equal talent, thatmembers may be considered interchangeable parts for each other in any program.

Smuin also choreographed a "Romeo and Juliet" pas de deux to the music of Sergei Prokofiev, and it gave witness to how much Yarbrough and Thayer have grown as artists. It was exquisite.

Smuin was a very generous spirit in encouraging and supporting the choreographic efforts of his dancers, and so this program offered the world premiere of Amy Seiwert's "Falling Up," to the piano music of Johannes Brahms. In such illustrious company, however, and although it is an excellent effort, it suffered by comparison. But this is just the beginning, and we should look forward to more new works from her for the Smuin Ballet.

To show how unaffected Smuin was, I met him in the lobby during one intermission and remarked that I had brought along a neighbor who was a big fan. During the next intermission he made a special trip down the aisle to seek us out and thrill his fan with some special attention.

Can the company survive after Smuin? As the great NBC Orchestra discovered after the death of it's famed conductor, Arturo Toscanini, it is very difficult for an organism to survive after its soul and spirit have been extracted. I hope it will be different this time.

As for me, I'm really going to miss the guy.