Smuin ballet’s revival of ‘Swipe’ is offbeat, inspired 

Terez Dean Orr is lifted by Smuin dancers in choreographer Amy Seiwert’s “French Kiss.” (Courtesy Chris Hardy)

An online dictionary lists as synonyms for innovative: original, inventive, ingenious, newfangled. 

None of those adequately describe how exquisitely offbeat, inspired and stimulating “Swipe” — one number in the 16-member Smuin Contemporary Ballet’s “Dance Series 2” — is. 

Val Caniparoli’s outstanding revived choreography for four men and three women even overshadows the world premiere of “French Kiss,” choreographed by Amy Seiwert, who was just named the company’s associate artistic director. 

Caniparoli merges bare-chested male dancers and ultra-dexterous females, bobbing heads and wildly waving flat-handed arms, with selections from “String Quartet No. 2 with Remixes,” a slightly weird, often drum-thumpingly loud electronic piece by Gabriel Prokofiev, grandson of the great Russian composer.

The whole thing isn’t perfect, only 98.3 percent so. The trouble is, it’s virtually impossible to locate the other 1.7 percent.  

Smuin dancers are so adept and so smooth, it’s as if the choreographer whispered to the performers separately, “Go out there and see precisely how you can excel while using this framework.” And each of them has. 

L-R, Smuin dancers Tessa Barbour, Cassidy Isaacson and Terez Dean Orr are excellent in the revival of Val Caniparoli’s “Swipe,” in Smuin’s “Dance Series 2.” (Courtesy Chris Hardy)

That includes steps that display — in addition many decidedly more familiar — worm-like shimmying on the floor, backwards dancing, and a few moments that resemble the Charleston done sideways. 

The word hybrid today often refers to a meeting that’s half in-person, half on Zoom, but the word also applies to the 11-year-old “Swipe,” especially if one considers its wide diversity of dance segments by Caniparoli, who recently retired from San Francisco Ballet after five decades, but will continue freelance work. 

“French Kiss,” meanwhile, combines classical movements with subtle and rainbow-colored costuming to showcase tunes by Pink Martini, an Oregon-based band (or, as group members call it “a little orchestra”) that’s spent a lot of time abroad. 

The group not only crosses multiple genres with ease — from classical and Latin to pop and jazz, with a light nod to rock — but features more than a dozen musicians, playing songs with roots in 25 languages. For “French Kiss,” it figures, the tunes are soft, sexy, and, well, in Gallic.   

Incorporated are segments using a musical backdrop of cabaret torch singer Meow Meow’s “Mon homme marié,” and the most imaginative piece, “Ma solitude,” which spotlights amusing dual footwork by Cassidy Isaacson and João Sampaio (accompanied by two rolling mannequins).  

Cassidy Isaacson and João Sampaio appear in Amy Seiwert’s world premiere of “French Kiss” in Smuin’s “Dance Series 2” touring the Bay Area through May 28. (Courtesy Chris Hardy)

Filling out the bill are two more traditional, sweet, uncommonly graceful works: “Dream,” with choreography by the company’s late founder, Michael Smuin, that illustrates a piano concerto by Frédéric Chopin, and the opening number, “Sextettte,” with Kate Skarpetowska’s dance moves set to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.  

L-R, Lauren Pschirrer, Cassidy Isaacson and Brennan Wall dance in Smuin’s company premiere of Kate Skarpetowska’s “Sextette. (Courtesy Chris Hardy)

An unfortunate aspect of this four-dance concert is that only half the theater’s seats were filled at a recent weekend performance in San Francisco, clearly a result of residual fears about COVID, its variants and subvariants. Hopefully that’ll change — if not this season, then the next, which is Smuin’s 30th anniversary. Scheduled programming includes a world premiere ballet choreographed by Darrell Grand Moultrie and an Elvis Presley-themed ballet by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa. 

Smuin’s “Dance Series 2” continues this weekend at Blue Shield of California Theater, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 700 Howard St., San Francisco; tickets are $25-$84. Call (415) 912-1899. Performances also are May 25-28 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View. Tickets are $25-$79. Call (650) 903-6000 or visit

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