Mr. Smuin suffered an apparent heart attack Monday morning while teaching a Smuin Ballet company class at the company's upper Market Street studio. Attempts by his dancers and paramedics to revive him were unsuccessful. He was pronounced dead at San Francisco General Hospital.
"We are all deeply saddened and shocked," said Dwight Hutton, Smuin managing director, in a statement. "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 time."
Mr. Smuin formed the Smuin Ballet in 1994. The troupe, which blended ballet and theatre dancing styles, was hugely popular. He set dances to music by everyone from Frank Sinatra and the Beatles to Haydn and Brahms. His founding of the company marked a return to the city where his career began, as the young principal dancer with San Francisco Ballet from 1953 to 1961. After eight seasons with SFB, he then married fellow company member Paula Tracy and left the company to move to New York.
He first worked on Broadway as a dancer in Little Me in 1962. Mr. Smuin and Tracy then created a night-club dance act, which they toured around the country and overseas.
Mr. Smuin was principal dancer and resident choreographer for American Ballet Theatre before returning to San Francisco as director of San Francisco Ballet, a post he held from 1973 to 1985. He is largely credited with raising the national profile of that troupe. Nonetheless, his contract was not renewed in 1985 and he made an acrimonious departure. In the early '80s, he directed and choreographed the hit revue Sophisticated Ladies, winning a Tony Award nomination for his work on both fronts. He returned to Broadway in 1987, this time as just choreographer on Anything Goes, a revival which was directed by Jerry Zaks and starred Patti LuPone. The show, which had a long run, was known for its extensive tap-dancing.
He was director-choreographer of the short-lived 1988 revue Canciones de mi Padre in 1988, and, two years later, piloted one of the biggest musical flops in Broadway history, the stage version of James Clavell's epic novel Shogun. He never returned to Broadway in a leadership role. He did, however, choreograph the 1995 London revival of Mack and Mabel.
Feature film credits include "Rumble Fish," "A Walk in the Clouds," "Cotton Club," "Star Wars," and "The Fantasticks."
Michael Smuin was born on Oct. 13, 1938, in Missoula, MT. His father worked as a Safeway butcher. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, he studied tap dancing as a child and was highly moved by an appearance of the touring Ballet Russe at the University of Montana. At age 14, he moved to Salt Lake City on a dance scholarship at the University of Utah. San Francisco Ballet director Lew Christensen recruited him in 1953, when Smuin was only 15.
Plans for a memorial service are pending. The Smuin family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations and remembrances be made to Smuin Ballet.