It’s hard to blame Yuri Zhukov for walking away from the (relative) security of performing with one of the country’s pre-eminent ballet companies.
“I got tired of being the prince,” he has said.
The former principal dancer and instructor at Kirov, and more recently the San Francisco Ballet, took a grande jete away from classical ballet to found the Zhukov Dance Theatre.
Now in its sixth season, ZDT’s program of two world premieres next week is in line with Zhukov’s philosophy: “In Russia, you would never get a chance to experience new, contemporary choreographers. Here and in Europe you are exposed to great new dance from around the world. You understand the possibilities — what people are achieving. It’s a guideline for creation,” he says.
The show, featuring works by Zhukov and Israeli choreographer Idan Sharabi, is onstage at the new SFJAZZ Center, which Zhukov calls “a beautiful space with great acoustics.”
Zhukov’s piece, “Enlight,” is a more human than pastoral mashup of classical and contemporary dance performed by the troupe’s virtuosic ballet-trained dancers. The work echoes his personal history and creative arc in exploring challenges that occur when the past, with all its merits and baggage, clashes with the present.
The score of electronic sound and excerpts from Bach, Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson and Spanish composer Jordi Savall reinforce the theme of change.
“I hope it will make people think,” Zhukov says. “We don’t solve all these problems, but we do show some solutions.” If Zhukov’s work is about muscle, sinew and intimacy, then Sharabi’s “Spider on a Mirror” is about bone, energy and uncontrollable forces.
It was inspired, in part, by some of the grittier elements of San Francisco street life. “People on the street move in a certain way,” Sharabi says. “They energetically seem to grab the emotion that’s happening around — or in — them. It’s exciting. So we’re playing with those extremes.”
The serendipity of debuting at the SFJAZZ Center, the first dance concert at that venue, is not lost on Sharabi. “My movement research explores many elements that jazz music uses — polyrhythms and syncopations,” he says, adding, “Most importantly we start developing our improvisation skills, right in the beginning of the process.”
Taking a creative approach to arts funding, Zhukov, an accomplished visual artist as well as choreographer, created nearly 100 paintings (on display in the SFJAZZ Center lobby) for auction in a crowd-funding campaign for the company.
“Some are abstracts, many are of theater-related themes,” he says.
IF YOU GO
Zhukov Dance Theatre
Where: SFJAZZ Center, 201 Franklin St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday and Oct. 30
Tickets: $25 to $55