“If one judges a dance company by the quality of choreographer it attracts, then Smuin can hold up its head with pride. The 23-year-old company’s continuing relationship with Trey McIntyre has yielded another pop-inspired piece the company can dance for years to come (and probably will). “Be Here Now,” seen Friday, May 12, at Walnut Creek’s Lesher Center, is the highlight of the troupe’s final season program, which also includes a premiere by Smuin dancer Nicole Haskins and a revival by choreographer in residence Amy Seiwert.
It’s a lively mix for this versatile company, and those who attended to wallow in the nostalgia generated by the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love were probably satisfied. But “Be Here Now” (title courtesy Ram Dass) is a complex work that looks back with mixed emotions. McIntyre is an absolute master of interpreting popular music in the classical vocabulary, especially for large ensembles. Those ensembles can really sizzle, but he has more on his mind here than reliving the past.
“Be Here Now” begins with scratchy footage of atomic bomb blasts, with a mushroom cloud metamorphosing into an ice cream cone and the 12 dancers kicking out to a vintage recording by the Mamas and the Papas. Men are bare-chested, women sport period fringe, and the group dominates. But McIntyre’s prologue suggests that fear of nuclear annihilation and the search for a better world guided the ’60s. Most of the young did not find that world, and there’s an undeniable sadness among all the drug experimentation and group gropes. When, to the sound of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit,” a bulbous parade float disintegrates into a dancer wearing a shirt that reads “UR God,” we sense that an era has corroded from within.
McIntyre sets the piece to pop music of the period (Janis Joplin, Steve Miller and the Youngbloods, among others), but a new recording of an African American choir singing “Which Side Are You On” inspires the best choreography, a muscular love duet for Jonathan Powell and Ben Needham-Wood. Erin Yarbrough-Powell, Robert Kretz, Terez Dean and Michael Wells contributed substantially. If “Be Here Now” misses the insouciant charm of McIntyre’s earlier “Oh, Inverted World,” it’s a more thoughtful opus.
San Francisco Classical Voice
“…fantastic ensemble choreography and tight structures that appear organic, even improvised, but result from McIntyre’s intense attention to detail.”