Amy Seiwert and Celia Fushille
Celia Fushille (right) will step down as artistic director of Smuin Contemporary Ballet; company veteran Amy Seiwert will succeed her | Credit: Chris Hardy

Having been at the creation of the company three decades ago, starred as its principal dancer for more than 12 years, and led it since 2007, Celia Fushille announced last week that 2023–2024 will be her last season as Smuin Contemporary Ballet’s artistic director.

When the company’s 30th anniversary is celebrated next June, Smuin Associate Artistic Director Amy Seiwert will succeed Fushille.

“I will leave this position with this mighty company to which I’ve given half my life,” said Fushille, “knowing that the path forward is secure at Smuin and generations of dancers and patrons will continue to benefit from the distinctive art and heartfelt beauty that touches so many every year.”

Michael Smuin led the San Francisco Ballet as co-director from 1973 until 1985, when the board did not renew his contract. In 1994, he founded Smuin Ballet, which he led until his death (at a rehearsal, in seemingly good health) in 2007 and for which he choreographed 40 works

Celia Fushille
Fushille at the Smuin Center for Dance, which she helped acquire and rebuild | Credit: Chris Hardy

Fushille’s history with Smuin goes all the way back to 1980, “when I was 17, an advanced student in the [SF Ballet] School, and later became an apprentice of the company (1981–1982) and performed/toured with them throughout that time. I left SFB for one season and injured myself as I prepared to rejoin the company. My last performances there were for Nutcracker in 1983.”

A decade later, “I was honored when Michael Smuin approached me as he was forming his own company and asked me to come work with him, as a dancer and later as his associate artistic director,” said Fushille.

“I had admired Michael since my teenage years, and to be mentored by him was a dream. When Michael passed away in 2007, we were bereft. The Smuin Board of Trustees showed enormous faith in appointing me to continue his legacy, and it has been an unbridled pleasure to steer this company for the past 16 years, as it has grown and continued to thrive.”

As the final founding member still working with the company, Fushille has seen Smuin through challenges and growth. During her own performing career spanning 25 years, she appeared on stages in the U.S. and Europe, on television, and in film.

Celia Fushille
Celia Fushille in the lead role of Michael Smuin’s The Blue Angel (1998) | Credit: Susan Vogel

She originated iconic roles with Smuin, including Frankie in Frankie and Johnny, Roxanne in Cyrano, Lola-Lola in The Blue Angel, and Santa Baby in the company’s Christmas Ballet. Fushille also performed some of Michael Smuin’s earlier works, including The Eternal Idol and Medea.

During her tenure, Fushille named Seiwert as the company’s first choreographer-in-residence, presented the works of more than 20 choreographers new to Smuin, and expanded the repertoire of the company by commissioning 18 world premieres.

Fushille also encouraged the creation of works by company artists with the establishment of the Choreography Showcase. In 2019, she helped realize a 10-year goal with Smuin’s move into its first permanent home, leading efforts to raise the funds to purchase and renovate the Smuin Center for Dance in San Francisco.

Among the many challenges that are the lot of every dance company, the latest for Smuin is dealing with a drastic cut in support from SF Grants for the Art, from $150,000 to $38,000.

Asked if she is retiring, Fushille told SF Classical Voice:

“I am not thinking of this as retirement per se, as I’d like to have the bandwidth while I still have the energy to go and stage Michael’s works at other companies. It’s been difficult to do that with the full responsibilities of the company on my shoulders. This seems a good time for me to step aside, now that the company is solid and we have a fabulous successor ready to assume the helm.”

Among Seiwert’s works performed at Smuin are Dear Miss Cline (set to the music of Patsy Cline), Falling Up, Renaissance, Been Through Diamonds, Broken Open, Objects of Curiosity, But Now I Must Rest, The Melting, Revealing the Bridge, Soon These Two Worlds, Requiem, and French Kiss.