Last week was subsumed by the sudden death of Michael Smuin. A populist and popular choreographer, former co-director of the San Francisco Ballet, and founder of his wildly successful chamber troupe Smuin Ballets, Smuin was teaching company class on Monday when he collapsed in heart failure. Steven Winn wrote a thorough and excellent obituary for the Chronicle, which you can read here; I contributed some reporting, but in truth not much. The next day the Chronicle had me round up appreciations of Smuin, which resulted in this article; I’m told it turned out well, but I wouldn’t know. Chronicle classical music critic Joshua Kosman ended up reporting from the Smuin studios, and most of the material in the story, I suspect, is his, as I assume the byline rightly should be too. Because of guilt over this, I suppose, I haven’t been able to bring myself to read it.
There is probably another reason I haven’t read it, which is that my participation in any tributes to Smuin is awkward. Six or seven years ago, still very immature as a critic, I thought it good sport to savage Smuin’s crowd-pleasing razzle-dazzle; my reviews started out mildly disappointed and confounded by his audience’s ardor, and became increasingly and unnecessarily mean-spirited. Growing up and seeing the useless ugliness of sneering, I stopped going to his shows altogether. I figured I’d seen what he was about and didn’t care for it; if I found it pandering and vulgar, I didn’t need to keep harassing the company with that opinion. Recently, realizing what an unfair target I’d made of Smuin and embarrassed by my past penchant for snobbishness, I’d begun to think I should take in another Smuin Ballet performance to see how my reactions to his unabashedly showy dances had evolved. I wish I’d done this during his lifetime. His dances delighted hundreds of thousands of people. Perhaps if I had not been so bent on proving my own rarified taste, I would have seen why.
I was very sorry to hear of his death. I know the 16 members of his company are in tremendous grief and shock. I hope the Smuin Ballet will continue, and wonder if it might not be turned over to associate director Celia Fushille-Burke, perhaps with the young choreographer Amy Seiwert, whose creative talents Smuin so enthusiastically supported, as resident choreographer.
Smuin was many things–flashy, fun, drawn to theatrical spectacle and over-the-top glitz. But he was never a snob, and for that and much more I admire him, and make my own belated apology.