Schmaltzy 

Dance lite hits the spot

5/24-5/25

Some of Michael Smuin's ballets are so fervent they look like hyperventilating teenagers. Others bump and grind like good Midwestern girls playing the whore, with a smuttiness too literal to be truly obscene. Smuin is a pop choreographer, not in the self-conscious style of Mark Morris, who uses pop motifs to throw light on society, but with all the two-dimensional values of television, combined with the show-stopping bravado of Broadway. It's dance lite. Who am I to say that polyester and toupees should be banned, or that only dance that comes from some part of the body other than the groin and the schmaltz glands is worth our while? There's an audience out there for Smuin and it loves what he does. Sometimes I do, too. Following on the heels of Zorro, his latest superhero treatment that appeared in Walnut Creek over the last two weeks, Smuin hits the Dean Lesher Theater in Walnut Creek this weekend with a new song revue, Come Dance Me a Song . Set to a collection of tunes by Elton John, it ranges from lush melancholy to kitsch rock with "Candle in the Wind," "Tiny Dancer," "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," and "Crocodile Rock." Press material boasts that the ballet employs every style from jazz and ballet to tap, and makes much of the fact that some of the music is from "original recordings" while other bits are played live by pianist John Bayless. If that doesn't knock your socks off, the show is also reprising "Stabat Mater," Smuin's 9/11 tribute, which got its foundational image from the televised funeral of a 9/11 firefighter. The music is Dvorák's eponymous chorale. "Bouquet," a light piece from the dark composer Shostakovich, will also be on the bill.

Smuin is a former Broadway hoofer, Emmy award-winner, SF Ballet dancer, codirector of San Francisco Ballet, and now the nine-year director of Smuin Ballets/SF, whose logo self-consciously imitates the Superman logo. With a bit of James Cagney about him, Smuin is the only guy around who can put together dances with the for-the-moment verve of a real song and dance man (Cagney was a classically trained dancer), and then add a crowd-pleasing wiggly panache. Yeah, they're light on form and content, but the bodies are beautiful, the music is tuneful, and the experience is frothy. Sometimes, that's enough.

Tickets: $35 balcony, $40 orchestra, from 925-943-7469. Corner of Civic and Locust streets, Walnut Creek. Info: www.smuinballet.org or 415-495-2234. -- Ann Murphy

5/23-5/25

Tria Donna

There is Stein there

Move over, Edward Gorey and Tim Burton. In Three Sisters Who Are Not Sisters , Art music composer Ned Rorem gives musical wings to a short play by Gertrude Stein, viewing the macabre games children play through a decidedly abstract eye and ear. Also on the bill at the Oakland Metro (201 Broadway) is a selection of Stein's other songs, set to music by Rorem, who turns eighty this year, and Virgil Thomson. 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Call 510-763-1146 for tickets to this Oakland Opera Theatre production. -- Stefanie Kalem

5/22-6/22

Wales Watching

Dylan Thomas wrote Under Milk Wood as a "play for voices." The monumental Welsh poet and playwright (1914-1953) dreamt up the quaint seaside town of Llareggub as a sleepy place where girls dream of being "bridesmaided by glowworms" and boys go down to "the jollyrogered sea," a town of "colorful little eccentricities." He had a considerable mean streak, as well (the town's name is "Buggerall" spelled backward), and it's a good bet that when the Shotgun Players launch their production of the play to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, that will be there too. Under Milk Wood previews Thursday and Friday, then through June 22, at 8th Street Studio, 2525 8th St., Berkeley. 510-704-8210 or www.shotgunplayers.org -- Kelly Vance

5/24-5/26

Marching Through Fremont

No matter what you might wonder about the motivations of folks who dress up in bygone military uniforms and reenact famous wars, you have to admit it's a spectacle that cannot be reproduced electronically -- you have to actually be there. That's why the Civil War Days event at Fremont's Ardenwood Farms (34600 Ardenwood Blvd.) this weekend is so potentially exciting. Thrill to the epic clash between the Union and Confederate armies, with battles staged twice daily. Between battles, tour the authentic campgrounds of both armies. Cringe when the cannons roar. Obtain your own Red Badge of Courage. To learn more: 510-796-0663 or www.ebparks.org -- Kelly Vance

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