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Michael Smuin has died

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I received this press release tonight:

Michael Smuin

October 13, 1938 – April 23, 2007

Internationally Acclaimed Dancer & Choreographer Passes

23 April 2007 – San Francisco, CA: Michael Smuin – founder and Artistic

Director of the Internationally acclaimed Smuin Ballet (

www.smuinballet.org ) passed away this morning in San Francisco after

collapsing in the midst of a rehearsal for his next season. Smuin was 68.

“We are all deeply saddened and shocked,” said Dwight Hutton, Smuin Managing

Director. “However, he died doing precisely what he loved to do. Our

sympathy and condolences go out to Michael’s son, Shane, his brothers

Stephen and Douglas and his former wife Paula Tracy during this difficult


“In the midst of our grief, we celebrate this great artist,” said Patti

Hume, Board Chair for Smuin Ballet. “Michael was as much a San Francisco

icon as the Golden Gate Bridge or the theatres of this City he graced for

some many years with his artistry.”

Smuin made the San Francisco Bay Area his home since he was a Principal

Dancer with San Francisco Ballet, before going on to dance on Broadway, and

appearing in film and television. He was Principal Dancer and Resident

Choreographer for American Ballet Theatre before returning to San Francisco

as Director of San Francisco Ballet (1973-1985), and was instrumental in

raising that company's profile in the international arts community,

including many “Dance in America” programs on PBS. He directed ABT's 50th

Anniversary Gala. Broadway credits include Sophisticated Ladies, Anything

Goes (Tony Award for Choreography), Shogun and Canciones de Mi Padre.

Feature film credits include Rumble Fish, A Walk In the Clouds, Cotton Club,

Star Wars, and The Fantasticks. Television credits include Ira Gershwin at

100: A Celebration at Carnegie Hall. He has won Emmy Awards for Romeo and

Juliet, The Tempest, and A Song for Dead Warriors. His ballets are currently

in the repertories of major dance companies around the country.

Plans for a memorial service are pending. The Smuin family requests that in

lieu of flowers, donations and remembrances be made to Smuin Ballet.

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I am deeply saddened to hear this news. I never knew Mr. Smuin but knew many, many dancers that worked with him and thought so highly of him. I have also seen a number of his works over the years and enjoyed them. I suppose the fact that he died doing what he loved most is a good thing but it seems to me it was pre-mature. He seemed to be still in a vibrant time in his career and life. May he rest in peace and his children, former wife, and countless dancers have my deepest condolenses.

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From the San Francisco Chronicle

(04-23) 17:02 PDT -- Michael Smuin, former co-artistic director of the San Francisco Ballet and founder of his own dance company, collapsed and died this morning at his company's studios.

Smuin, who was 68, had a broad and rich career as a dancer and dance-maker. A native of Missoula, Mont, he began dancing at a young age and danced with both the American Ballet Theatre and the San Francisco Ballet. At 27, he began a second career as a choreographer. He enjoyed a brief tenure as co-director of San Francisco Ballet with Lew Christensen, but found himself out of a job when his contract was not renewed in 1984. He was succeeded at San Francisco by the company's current artistic director, Helgi Tomasson.

Veteran observers of the Bay Area dance scene know all the details of the upheaval, but it's so much ancient history to others.

After making dance for film, Broadway and in Las Vegas, Smuin returned to the Bay Area in 1994 to form his own company, Smuin Ballets/SF, which continues to this day. It is a smaller company than San Francisco Ballet, but, from the start, Smuin's social and artistic contacts served him well.

His ballets include "The Catharine Wheel," "Pulcinella Variations," "Romeo and Juliet, "The Christmas Ballet," "Shinju," "Zorro," "Frankie and Johnny" and "Fly Me to the Moon."

E-mail David Wiegand at dwiegand@sfchronicle.com

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Michael was my director at San Francisco Ballet the entire time I danced with the company...from 1973 (I joined in 72) to 1985...we left the same year. He was more than a director to me...he was a friend. He was a genuinely nice person. I remember the early days of his co-directorship with Lew Christensen at SFB. It was an exciting time. There was such a feeling of comradery among the dancers. It was Michael that brought that feeling of exuberance, creativity, and excitement that totally revitalized SFB in the early 70s. We began full spring seasons at the Opera House in addition to our annual Nutcracker run and touring. I worked with Michael a few times in the 90s as a regisseur, staging his "QAV" (I was an original cast member) as well as excerpts from his "The Tempest." Last year, when I attended his May season in the city, his brand new "Symphony of Psalms" was on the program, dedicated to his long-time friend and supporter Bill King. This was one of his best works, I thought to myself. When I saw him afterwards, I told him how beautiful his new ballet was and how much it moved me. He seemed so excited with a sense of fullfillment about his ballet. He told me,"Gina, I think I finally got it right!" I remember thinking what an amazing thing to say, after all his ballets, musicals, movies...his huge body of work. He finally got it right...

I attended Smuin Ballet this past February in the East Bay. I hadn't had the opportunity to see his company in a while, and I enjoyed the performance so much. I hooked up with Michael afterwards. We hugged a huge, long hug and talked. He was always so happy to see me, and I, him...He looked well. He looked happy. His company danced beautifully. We reminisced about a revival on the program that I had been an original cast member of some thirty years ago! We talked of being survivors...of feeling good. The dance world lost a huge talent and force today. He was too young...I am so saddened at his passing and can't believe he is gone. I am so sorry for his lovely family...I am so sorry for his beautiful dancers and devoted staff....I am so sorry for his many, many fans. He loved what he did, and he did it so well...He lived up to his full potential, amazing talent, creativity, and ability. He was very dear to me...a larger than life person! I shall miss him greatly. May he rest in peace and may light perpetual shine upon him. He will always dance on in my heart....

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Gina, my heart goes out to you.

I've just come home from the Isadora Duncan Awards ceremony, where we all mourned Smuin's death, though we were all still in shock. The Smuin Ballet dancer, Amy Seiwert came forward to speak on behalf of Smuin's dancers, many of whom came out with her. There was an altar in the lobby set up with photos and flowers by Krissy Keefer, the founder of Dance brigade, who has always proclaimed her admiration for his "Song for Dead Warriors." The whole house was filled with a sense of loss --

Sarah Linnie Slocum, who was his lighting designer, was one of the names read out during the 'in Memoriam" section, by Frank Shawl and Joanna Berman, the MCs -- and it was impossible for me not to see Joanna 20 years ago in "Hearts," in her yellow dress in the "small" role of the "other" girl, which she danced so brilliantly.

Evelyn Cisneros has moved to Los Angeles and wasn't there, alas. It was not a memorial, of course, but merely a ceremony colored by his memory -- though he had never, I don't believe, won an Izzy award. Though he HAD come to a ceremony to speak on behalf of Sarah Linnie Slocum when she won an Izzie award.

Many many dancers have owed a lot to Michael Smuin, but no-one is so attached in the public's mind with Smuin as Cisneros is -- his Cinderella, his heroine in Song for Dead warriors, and one of his great Juliets (she also danced the heroine, the "Garance" character, in "Hearts"). Larger than life.

Lots to think about here.

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Well....I don’t know that I would go so far as to characterize age 68 as young, but there is no doubt that he died while still creative and energetic, and it was too soon. Unhappy news, indeed, and I wish the best to his family and his company.

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I was very saddened to hear the news about Michael Smuin last night. Although I never knew him personally (I passed by him only once in the hallway at the San Francisco Ballet School), since I grew up dancing in the Bay Area, it was impossible not to feel Smuin's presence here. I knew many who danced with Smuin and my mother had season tickets to the San Francisco Ballet throughout my childhood. His ballets were my first introductions to dance. I especially remember "Romeo and Juliet" with Jim Sohm and Diana Weber. A beautiful rendition. As well as "Shinju" and the "Tempest". I saw "Sophisticated Ladies" on Broadway which I thought was brilliant. I have always been a huge fan of Michael Smuin and I feel this is a great loss to the ballet world. My condolences go out to his family and the many, many dancers who have worked with him. Rest in Peace.

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Shock, sadness, and many many memories. And not so many of live performances, but rather all those PBS Dance in America performances, which still remain to refresh our memories; if only, if only...

Deepest condolences to all those touched by his creativity and generosity.

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