Catching up–my review of Smuin Ballet in yesterday’s Chronicle:

“Michael Smuin was a ballet showman whose slick dances his fans loved, and plenty of critics – this one included – loved to hate. But watching his Smuin Ballet carry on after the gleefully populist choreographer’s sudden death one year ago, it’s hard to remember what all the fuss was about. Perhaps that’s largely because Smuin’s 2001 “Dancin’ With Gershwin,” which opened at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on Friday, is one of his tamer packages. It’s inoffensive, undemanding entertainment that will keep Smuin devotees happy – and likely win some new fans.

This suite of ditties set to George and Ira Gershwin is not as theatrically outre or teasingly testing of the boundaries of good taste as some Smuin creations. True, there’s a blond-wigged Marilyn Monroe (Robin Cornwell) shaking her moneymaker to Monroe’s rendition of “Do It Again” as men with Vegas feather fans tremble with lust – a classic Smuin moment. And true, “Dancin’ With Gershwin” is suffused with Smuin’s love of razzle-dazzle showbiz and crazy cartoon effects. In “Swanee,” to a recording by Al Jolson, the dancers wear white gloves and spats; their shirt cuffs suddenly glow in the dark, flying like birds as Jolson whistles. In “Ain’t Necessarily So” (Cher’s version), lithe Kevin Yee-Chan slinks through acrobatics while dancers in larger-than-life shadow projections act out the Biblical episodes behind him. There’s full-company tap dancing and old-fashioned cane twirling. In one of the less-inspired gimmicks, to “By Strauss,” two women in French maid outfits get twirled around on rolling office chairs.

But the bulk of “Dancin’ With Gershwin” consists of pleasant, mostly indistinct, romantic pas de deux. In “I’ve Got a Crush on You,” the man in a suit takes off her hat and turns out to be a woman – a vintage Smuin twist. “Someone to Watch Over Me” is set in the tropics, with Ethan White in a Tommy Bahama-style shirt partnering light-as-air Jessica Touchet. In “They Can’t Take that Away from Me,” Matthew Linzer moves through a ballroom dream with Cornwell, and in “The Man I Love,” sultry Erin Yarbrough-Stewart lavishes herself upon a bare-chested Aaron Thayer.

I can’t say I found either the steps or the emotional arc of any of these duets to be terribly notable, but I’m also not sure that matters. ”

Click here for the rest.

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