Six years after Michael Smuin’s death, Smuin Ballet continues to carry his torch, performing his works and new pieces he would have loved.
“Bouquet,” the mixed spring program with two local premieres onstage this week at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, shows the company at its adventurous best.
Helen Pickett’s “Petal,” an anticipated West Coast premiere, is fervid and furious. Pickett, a California native who danced with William Forsythe’s Ballet Frankfurt for more than 10 years, reflects both his influence and her individual ambition in the work.
Dancers watch each other like voyeurs, and between the swift, bustling flurry of movement to music by Philip Glass and Thomas Montgomery Newman, inflict both pleasure and pain. With a flick of a foot, a female pushes a male down — her foot pressing on his calf, disabling his knee.
Subtle violence that barbs the piece is countered by desire and yearning. The saturated lighting and costumes, in vivid, sherbetlike colors, seem as intense, merciless and passionate as any blood-red hue.
At the Saturday matinee, Erin Yarbrough held the most ownership over the athleticism and gesturing in “Petal” — her head, shoulders and legs angled with unparalleled sharpness.
While the company would benefit from tighter synchronicity in musicality and epaulement, making the vigorous work’s choreographic intent more lucid, it’s entertaining and provocative, over almost before it starts, and well worth seeing again.
Smuin Ballet is in its element in Darrell Grand Moultrie’s “Jazzin’,” choreographed to music by Duke Ellington, Count Basie and other masters.
Highly rhythmic and playful, with a slick sophistication akin to Bob Fosse, the fun, well-balanced piece shows Moultrie’s gift for ensemble work. The versatile Moultrie has created ballet works, danced on Broadway (“Billy Elliot”) and choreographed for Beyonce’s current world tour.
In “Jazzin’,” Jane Rehm enjoyed her bluesy, innuendo-laden solo “Takin’ No Mess” set to Ruth Brown singing “If I Can’t Sell It, I’ll Keep On Sittin On It.”
Although Joshua Reynolds’ brooding “So Low” solo might have seemed out of place in such a boisterous suite of dances, it shows Moultrie at ease creating movement of compelling grace and beauty.
“Bouquet” opens with “Chants D’Auvergne” by Smuin. The 1999 dance is a romantic, if a little saccharine, classical number with women in flowing, autumnal peasant dresses and men in the appropriate vest-and-tights attire. Not particularly remarkable, it does display the troupe’s classical skills and the tender heart of its founder.
Presented by Smuin Ballet
Where: Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. today-Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $24 to $65
Contact: (415) 912-1899, www.smuinballet.org
Note: Performances also are May 22-26 in Mountain View and May 31-June 1 in Walnut Creek.