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Smuin Ballet premieres ‘Oasis’

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Choreographer Helen Pickett, center, works with Smuin Ballet dancers on her world premiere “Oasis,” a collaboration with composer Jeff Beal. (Courtesy Chris Hardy)
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After a four-year drought relieved by a season of El Niño rain, what could be more appropriate than a new ballet by a California native, with a score composed by a California native, celebrating water?

On Friday, Smuin Ballet presents the world premiere of “Oasis,” a nearly 30-minute ballet in multiple parts by choreographer Helen Pickett, with original music by composer Jeff Beal, at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

Pickett, resident choreographer with Atlanta Ballet and a San Diego native who received her early dance training in San Francisco with Lew Christensen, Michael Smuin and Helgi Tomasson, says she created “Oasis” to celebrate “the abundance, sensuality and joy” of water.

Beal, a Hayward native, jazz instrumentalist and three-time Emmy Award-winning composer (who wrote the theme for “House of Cards”), says he “always wanted to write for ballet,” attracted by the notion of a score driving the narrative structure rather than simply responding to a script, as in film.

Beal’s publisher put him in touch with Pickett, who was taken with the music he wrote for filmmaker Jessica Yu’s 2011 documentary “Last Call at the Oasis,” which examines crises threatening the world’s water supply.

Beal says his score for Yu’s film “has a character and a point of view” that creates “a visceral connection to water.”

Pickett always has been drawn to water. She feels water is “proprioceptive,” that human beings have innate, internal responses to its texture, taste and temperature.

“Oasis” isn’t Pickett’s first collaboration with Smuin; the troupe presented her colorful piece “Petal” in 2013 and 2015 to positive reviews.

Pickett, who has created dances for Boston Ballet, Washington Ballet, Louisville Ballet, Dance Theatre of Harlem, Vienna State Opera and Scottish Ballet, among many others, calls her collaboration with Beal “very fulfilling.”

The two are planning to work together again on a commission by Oregon Ballet Theater.

Given their partnership’s generosity, originality, talent, flexibility and — dare one say “fluidity”? — “Oasis” likely will be a sensation, an ideal complement to Smuin’s spring program, which also includes Jirí Kylian’s “Return to a Strange Land” and Val Caniparoli’s “ Tutto Eccetto il Lavandino” (“everything but the kitchen sink).”

IF YOU GO
Smuin Ballet
Where: Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater, 700 Howard St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; closes May 15
Where: Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater, 700 Howard St., S.F.
Tickets: $24 to $67
Contact: (415) 912-1899, www.smuinballet.org
Note: More performances are May 27-28 in Walnut Creek and June 3-4 in San Mateo.

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