There could hardly be a clearer contemporary counterpoint to “Swan Lake” than “Mirrors,” the program Boston Ballet is presenting concurrently at the Boston Opera House. Two of the four pieces, former company principal Yury Yanowsky’s “Smoke and Mirrors” and Karole Armitage’s “Bitches Brew,” are world premieres, and José Martínez’s “Resonance” is just two years old. The evening gets off to a modest start, but the premieres are keepers, and the “mirror” theme runs throughout.
“Resonance,” a 30-minute Boston Ballet commission from 2014, looks just slightly more prepossessing this time around. Its Liszt score — four “Transcendental Études” and two Mozart Requiem transcriptions — is played by two pianists, Freda Locker in an alcove upstage center and Alex Foaksman just offstage, on the floor house left. The set is a series of large gray panels that the dancers — invisibly at first — roll about the stage, creating long diagonals and at times concealing Locker.
Martínez’s conceit is that the couple who start off in a dress and a sleeved shirt — Lia Cirio and Lasha Khozashvili opening night — wind up in a leotard and a sleeveless shirt, whereas the second couple — Dusty Button and Patrick Yocum — go in the opposite sartorial direction. The supporting ensembles, male and female, also change from one outfit to another, and in some cases back again. Martínez plays with mirror images: two pianos, two couples, two corps, shadows on the gray panels. But the choreography is more incidental than transcendental, becoming passionate only in the duet for Cirio and Khozashvili set to the Requiem’s “Lacrimosa.” Cirio begins and ends the piece, different outfit, same moves. Perhaps that’s the point.
Canadian choreographer Norbert Vesak’s duet “Belong,” originally part of his 1973 ballet “What to Do Till the Messiah Comes,” is set to Canadian electronic band Syrinx’s “December Angel” (1971), minus the first minute of outer-space caterwauling and gull shrieks. It’s an 8½-minute waltz to which the man and woman do a stately minuet. They start out on the floor, each lifting a leg in a mirror pose. They intertwine in maneuvers familiar from pair and dance figure skating; they separate for more mirror moves, but never for very long. Friday, Eris Nezha made the difficult lifts look easy, and Cirio recalibrated her usual sharp attack to match his easy command.
“Smoke and Mirrors” appears to take place post-apocalypse, in a smoky haze before three fragments of ruined wall. It’s choreographed for seven couples, four principal and three supporting, and the women wear corsets with lugs that the men can use to throw them around. The enticing score, by Yanowsky’s cousin Lucas Vidal, is all sirens and muffled voices, and the dancers look appropriately apprehensive, hunting or hunted. Friday’s opening couple, Ji Young Chae and John Lam, engaged in a kind of mating dance. Then came Anaïs Chalendard and Sabi Varga, athletic and troubled; Maria Baranova and Paul Craig, lyric and wistful; and finally Erica Cornejo and Isaac Akiba, resigned and sad. At the end, all seven couples disappeared, one by one, into the haze behind the wall.
“Bitches Brew” is set to the 27-minute title track from the legendary 1970 double album that Miles Davis recorded on New York’s East Side, even as, across town, future “punk ballerina” Armitage was attending the School of American Ballet. Certainly there’s more synergy, and energy, here than in “Ligeti Essays” and “Rave,” the pieces that Armitage Gone! Dance brought to the Institute of Contemporary Art in 2013. On a field of grays partitioned with black tape, the dancers, in reflective black leotards and tights whose shins and feet are painted varied hues, party like it’s still 1970, cool, hip, and a little spoofy. The piece is anchored by a woman with long black hair; the remaining women sport bangs and hair extensions that match the color of their feet.
The shape of “Bitches Brew” — both Davis’s composition and Armitage’s ballet — can be elusive. But Davis’s trumpet squalls and Bennie Maupin’s spectral bass clarinet beckon from the beyond, and on Friday, tossing her hair every which way, Chae combined extraordinary virtuosity with equally extraordinary spontaneity. It was as if she were improvising along with the musicians.
“Resonance,” by José Martínez. “Belong,” by Norbert Vesak. “Smoke and Mirrors,” by Yury Yanowsky. “Bitches Brew,” by Karole Armitage. Presented by Boston Ballet. At Boston Opera House, through May 28. Tickets: $35-$159. 617-695-6955, www.bostonballet.org
Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.