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    Cowboy Boots Meet Pointe Shoes in Smuin’s Season Opener

    Smuin Contemporary Ballet launches its 26th season with Dance Series 1, a fall program featuring three extra “The Man in Black,” an acclaimed work for three men and a woman, danced in cowboy boots.

    This company premiere choreographed by James Kudelka, the former artistic director of the National Ballet of Canada, is an ode to American working-class grit featuring complex choreography influenced by popular country-western dance styles including line, square, swing, and step dancing. Arresting and inventive, Kudelka’s piece is set to six songs covered by Cash, including Trent Reznor’s “Hurt” and Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind.”

    Also on the bill: the mainstage premiere of former Smuin artist Rex Wheeler’s “Take Five,” a delightfully witty work set to the jazzy beat of Dave Brubeck—just in time for the celebrated musician’s centennial. Michael Smuin’s dazzlingly dramatic “Carmina Burana,” set to the sensual Carl Orff score, rounds out this spectacular program of classical ballet and contemporary dance.

    Smuin’s Dance Series 1 program launches with shows at Walnut Creek’s Lesher Center for the Arts (September 20–21), then tours to San Francisco’s Cowell Theater (September 27–October 6). Information and tickets are available at

    “The Man in Black”

    One of the world’s most versatile and innovative dance artists, Kudelka began his choreography career with The National Ballet of Canada in 1972. After a widely praised rework of The Nutcracker, Kudelka served as artistic director at The National Ballet for nine years.

    The “Man in Black” utilizes six songs covered by Johnny Cash in his final years. When asked why Kudelka selected the music of Cash, he wrote: “I was told about his America CDs and all the covers he had done late in his life, and that was intriguing to me and somehow once removed from what one expects from him. And the songs are beautiful and so sad and intimate and elegiac in his performance of them. And ‘Four Strong Winds’ and ‘If You Could Read My Mind’ are songs from Canadian writers from my childhood. I knew every word of those.”

    Kudelka also makes an appeal to the tenaciousness of blue-collar American industry in this piece for three men and one woman by incorporating country-western dance styles. He learned the principles of line-dancing and two-stepping online, reading How-To articles and watching YouTube videos. He wrote, “There are interesting rules to line dancing. Forty moves in a row. Each forty moves are done in each of the four directions. I read the moves off a sheet to the cast and then massaged them into a more mysterious and ghostly form, claps with no sound, and it becomes a line of dead men walking. The female, blinded, survives.”

    “Take Five”

    An exuberant tribute to Brubeck’s Centennial, Wheeler’s “Take Five” offers a charming and colorful set of inventive and surprising movements to match the landmark jazz standard. Born in London, Wheeler performed with the Birmingham Royal Ballet, and for the Royal Family on several occasions, before joining Smuin as a dancer in 2015. As a choreographer, he has created works for organizations across the country, including Sinfonietta, presented last season by Smuin.

    “Carmina Burana”

    Rounding out the program is the revival of founder Michael Smuin’s renowned “Carmina Burana.” Set to German composer Carl Orff’s triumphant score of the same title, this impassioned piece celebrates life, lust, and joy, honoring the enduring legacy of Michael Smuin’s genius.

    For more than 25 years Smuin has pushed the boundaries of contemporary ballet within a distinctly American style, engaging and delighting audiences with uncommon physicality and expression. Founded in San Francisco in 1994 by Tony and Emmy award-winning choreographer Michael Smuin, the company is committed to creating work that merges the diverse vocabularies of classical ballet and contemporary dance.

    Artistic Director since 2007, Celia Fushille has celebrated Michael Smuin’s legacy while enriching the company’s impressive repertoire by collaborating with inventive choreographers from around the world, commissioning world premieres, and bringing new contemporary choreographic voices to the Smuin stage.

    More information and tickets for Smuin’s Dance Series 1 can be found online ( ) or by calling 415-912-1899.