One could make the plausible argument that the Bay Area’s post-modern dance movement began in earnest when choreographer Margaret Jenkins returned from New York and founded the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company.
“What I experienced from working with wonderful people like Twyla Tharp, Merce Cunningham and Viola Farber was an intellectual, emotional and physical rigor,” she says. “I wanted to continue that rigor here.”
On Thursday at the Novellus Theater, Jenkins launches her company’s 39th season with the world premiere of “Light Moves.”
Inspired by a set design from painter and visual artist Naomi Kremer for the Bartók opera “Bluebeard” that consisted entirely of projected images, Jenkins approached Kremer to discuss working together.
“I wondered what it would mean to create an environment that could embrace this visual world that she lives in,” Jenkins says.
For “Light Moves,” Kremer’s vibrant, at times kaleidoscopic, images are projected onto the stage’s backdrop as well as onto a series of 4-by-25-foot banners that move in and out of the space.
“We realized that light moving is a charged metaphor. On one hand it suggests the moves of dancers in relation to light; on the other hand it’s that light moves … eventually we realized that what we were talking about, in a sense, was an abstract day,” Jenkins says.
But like her mentor Cunningham, Jenkins avoids a linear narrative.
“We weren’t necessarily going from diurnal to nocturnal. But there are hours within our day: What is the different character of light and the emotional states that we associate with them? What stories lay within those cycles that we might want to create and animate?”
Jenkins’ choreographic process deeply involves the participation of her dancers.
“These people are extraordinary,” she says. “And they’re very different from one another, different sizes and shapes and of varying dance backgrounds — capoeira, ballet, modern. I really like that they live in these multiple worlds because when I ask them to create something they bring all that complexity into the work.”
Jenkins’ longtime music collaborator Paul Dresher provides a score for electronic and two unusual acoustic instruments: the Quadrochord, a 15-foot-long stringed instrument that can be plucked, bowed or hammered; and the Hurdy Grande, a giant descendant of a medieval hurdy-gurdy.
“It’s almost 10 feet long and has seven strings that are bowed mechanically by a motor,” he says. “It can sound ethereal and heavenly, or like a string quartet … or like Jimi Hendrix.”
IF YOU GO
Presented by Margaret Jenkins Dance Company
Where: Novellus Theater, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Howard St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Thursday through Nov. 5
Tickets: $20 to $35
Contact: (415) 978-2787, www.ybca.org