Retrospective: The Eternal Appeal of Michael Smuin

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PHOTO BY: BOB SHOMLER | ARTISTS: MARJORIE GRUNDVIG & LEE BELL


Michael Smuin (1938-2007) was a brilliant dancer, choreographer and theatre director. Throughout his career, he took home Emmy, Tony and Drama Desk awards, danced and choreographed for American Ballet Theatre, co-directed San Francisco Ballet for over 10 years and launched his own company, Smuin Ballet, which lives on in San Francisco.

Those who worked with him say he could hook your attention within the first five seconds of a ballet. His Eternal Idol is no exception.  The curtain rises on a couple entwined on a boulder – a muse-like model that seems to morph from rock to flesh.

Here, three PBT artistic leaders – Artistic Director Terrence S. Orr (at ABT and SFB) and PBT School Co-directors Marjorie Grundvig (at Smuin Ballet and Boston Ballet) and Dennis Marshall (at ABT and SFB) – reflect on what it’s like to dance Eternal Idol and work first-hand with its dynamic creator. Both Grundvig and Marshall performed this work during their own dance careers, and Orr witnessed its creation in 1969 at American Ballet Theatre.



PHOTO BY: BOB SHOMLER | ARTISTS: MARJORIE GRUNDVIG & LEE BELL

What was Michael Smuin like as a person?

Terrence S. Orr: “Michael was a real dynamo – full of energy, very smart and really understood his craft. He was a great creator of big ideas. He had a wonderful sense of humor and he could be quite funny, a great storyteller.”

Marjorie Grundvig: “I think within the framework of the choreography he really gave a lot of individual authority to make it how I wanted to do it. It wasn’t a story, it was a feeling. It was musical. He wanted me to be able to interpret it how I felt it.”

Dennis Marshall: “He loved his work, he lived in the studio. He taught company class most of the time so you really felt like he was one of us (dancers). He always had a great sense of humor. This creative energy that was about him, you felt it when he was in the room. He also was very encouraging of his dancers to choreograph – much as what is happening now at PBT. You always felt like something new and fresh was happening…I felt very fortunate to work with him. It’s a highlight of my career.”



PHOTO BY: BIL LEIDERSDORF | ARTISTS: DENNIS MARSHALL & KIM HIGHTON

How did you interpret Eternal Idol?

TO: “He took advantage of doing a very sensual work, because (original cast members Cynthia Gregory and Ivan Nagy) had a sensuality about them…He made it like a Rodin sculpture coming alive. It’s an incredible piece of music. It’s very romantic. It’s one of his jewels.”

MG: “It’s a piece of art that’s coming to life. There’s freedom within the movement…to interpret it through your own personal circumstances. It’s just a romantic, sensual piece.”

DM: “You always enjoyed doing the piece. It just worked musically and choreographically and you just felt good dancing it. You felt like you had total freedom to take it where you wanted to take it. Fortunately I had a wonderful partner that we would bring that out in each other. You always felt a freedom….That was one special thing about him.”



PHOTO BY: BOB SHOMLER | ARTISTS: MARJORIE GRUNDVIG & LEE BELL


What does it require of a partner?

TO: “You have to be very connected with each other. You depend on each other to make it work. This really relies on each other as partners to achieve a continuum of movement – whether they’re dancing separately together or whether they’re connected in a duet.”

MG: “There has to be complete trust in each other.”

DM: “That connection from the beginning to the end, it’s never lost. The audience should feel that connection.”

 

PHOTO BY: BOB SHOMLER | ARTISTS: MARJORIE GRUNDVIG & LEE BELL

What do you hope PBT dancers will bring out and take away from this work?

TO: “It’s designed for beautiful line…In this ballet, it’s very important to understand what (sensuality) is.”

MG: “What’s nice is that the dancers here really know each other well so there’s opportunity for them to have really strong connections with each other. I think it lets people show their own personalities and a part of themselves that maybe they can’t show otherwise.”

DM: “I think it’s a special, special piece. I hope the dancers here will feel that and experience that. It can be another level into one’s work or maturity (as an artist).”

 



Mixed Repertory #2: Four Works on 1 Ticket
March 10-13, 2016 | Byham Theater | www.pbt.org | 412-456-6666

Antony Tudor’s Jardin Aux Lilas (Lilac Garden)
James Kudelka’s The Man in Black
Michael Smuin’s Eternal Idol
Yoshiaki Nakano’s A Fellow Feeling 

 Learn more about the choreographers here!

Sub-title
3 PBT Artistic Leaders on Dancing for a Dynamo

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