Petal

Smuin Ballet: Helen Pickett’s ‘Petal’

“Mostly breathe, do not punch it,” instructs choreographer Helen Pickett from the front of Smuin Ballet’s studios, “Listen to the music, do not punch it.”
Pickett is in San Francisco rehearsing her ballet “Petal” for the company’s spring season, which starts a two-week run this weekend at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts before touring to Mountain View, Walnut Creek and Carmel.
With a wide smile, she admits to a caffeine-fueled energy as she settles back to watch the dancers launch into her high-octane yet sensual choreography. No delicate hothouse blooms here – “Petal” seems instead to be a barely contained riot of wildflowers.

“Mostly breathe, do not punch it,” instructs choreographer Helen Pickett from the front of Smuin Ballet’s studios, “Listen to the music, do not punch it.”

Pickett is in San Francisco rehearsing her ballet “Petal” for the company’s spring season, which starts a two-week run this weekend at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts before touring to Mountain View, Walnut Creek and Carmel. With a wide smile, she admits to a caffeine-fueled energy as she settles back to watch the dancers launch into her high-octane yet sensual choreography. No delicate hothouse blooms here – “Petal” seems instead to be a barely contained riot of wildflowers.

The vivacious dance maker created “Petal” in 2008 for the Aspen/Santa Fe Ballet, and it’s been staged for Atlanta Ballet, where she is resident choreographer. The debut with Smuin Ballet represents a homecoming for Pickett, who lived in San Francisco as a teenager and attended Lowell High School while studying at the San Francisco Ballet School.

While there in 1986, the young dancer met William Forsythe, a choreographer whose lasting influence is detectable in her style. She recalls watching him rehearse the company as he created his ballet “New Sleep.”

“After a week of me sitting in the doorway like a 5-year old kid – and this is so Bill – he said, ‘You’ve been watching all this time, why don’t you come in and try some things?’ ” says Pickett, who later asked him if she could audition for the Frankfurt Ballet and joined the company at 19.

“It sounds like a fairy tale, but bottom line is that I asked him,” she says pragmatically. “You look at people’s lives and they seem charmed, but you are responsible for your success. As Louis Pasteur says, fortune favors the prepared mind.”
After several years with Frankfurt Ballet, Pickett left dance to work with the Wooster Group theatrical troupe. She pursued acting for several years, while also teaching Forsythe improvisation techniques, when a chance opportunity from Boston Ballet drew her into choreographing in 2006.

Since then, the lively “Petal” has become one of her best-known works. Pickett says it was inspired by the vibrant color and softness of a Gerber daisy.

“All human beings have these senses, and they connect us,” says Pickett, who wrote her master’s thesis on proprioception, a word that comes up in her rehearsals. “Intimacy is such an important part of a human life – without it, we wither. So how do we break that fourth wall and connect to the audience more than just visually? Let’s celebrate this burst of color, this sound, this touch.”

Atlanta Ballet

Testimonials

…The Bay Area caught up with a choreographer to remember. Her name is Helen Pickett….
– Allan Ulrich

The audience was taken in by Helen Pickett’s “Petal,”..all done with a glowing physicality that spontaneously brought the audience to its feet, startled by its extreme beauty, sensuality and effervescence.
– Cynthia Bond Perry

History of Petal

2017 – Oregon Ballet Theatre
2016 – Kansas City Ballet
2014 – Oregon Ballet Theatre
2013 – Smuin Ballet
2011 – Atlanta Ballet
2008 – Created full ballet for Aspen Santa Fe Ballet
2007 – New York City Ballet’s New York Choreographic Institute
Commissioned a 10 minute work for Boston Ballet studio showing

2017-07-20T14:41:32+00:00