The dance world has, of late, been rather uncomfortably forced to confront the timeless and ultimately inevitable question of how to continue a company after the death of the founding choreographer. Merce Cunningham’s famously disbanded this year after a final worldwide tour, while Pina Bausch’s continues to search for a way forward. To a less-documented extent, Michael Smuin’s, founded in 1994 by the former San Francisco Ballet artistic director, has demonstrated that the loss of a guiding light is not necessarily a death sentence, as a recently concluded run at the Joyce in Chelsea proved that provocative new works from others can serve just as well for extending a legacy.
Smuin Ballet first presented Oh, Inverted World, the young ballet choreographer Trey McIntyre’s suite set to songs by the Shins, in its hometown of San Francisco in 2010. The fresh and lively work, performed in soft shoes and athletic wear, is an engaging examination of youthful exuberance and pure physical activity, as candid and modern as many of Robbins’ works felt a half-century ago. The men leap and jog circles around the stage in shorts, striped socks, and wristbands while the women plant their feet decisively and kick with power and grace. The eight dancers exude a certain innocence and naïveté, as if constantly surprised by their own abilities and the sharp, stark steps, rushing to and fro with a playful energy and boundless joy that brings to mind Robbins’ cheeky Opus Jazz and his forceful Interplay.
Coming on a program with Smuin’s own kitschy reinterpretation of Medea and the lackluster African-inspired Soon These Two Worlds, Oh, Inverted World feels even more current, and not just because of the jangly, lilting soundtrack of indie songs. McIntyre’s take on ballet is less the neoclassicism of a Ratmansky or a Millepied than an inherently American take—the Robbins comparison is again here apt—celebrating both honesty and openness, vividly combining force and nuance. It’s worth noting that McIntyre worked with the memory of his time spent nursing a failed relationship to create Oh, Inverted World, and there is a notable sense of melancholy to cut the brashness in places. The dancers seem, at times, like adolescents discovering themselves, attempting to power through their emotions and agonies with pure energy, running towards the front of the stage in a stance of steadfast confrontation. The piece ends on a quiet, introspective note, with a solo of soft movement interlaced with breaks and pauses of stillness. The dancer twists and turns, seeking some sort of comforting balance. Thankfully, he never finds it.
Photography by David Allen.