Janis Joplin’s recording of “Ball and Chain” by Big Mama Thornton evokes a lot of powerful emotions.
But its angst-filled, acid blues probably didn’t inspire much dancing before Boston Dance Theater collaborated with choreographer Yin Yue on “Today for Now.”
That work uses Joplin’s music as the basis for a 16-minute performance that the company will present, along with three other dances, at Salem State University next Thursday, Jan. 17.
Not only do the dancers respond to heavily distorted guitar solos by James Gurley, who played in Joplin’s first band, but they follow Joplin’s voice to a point where it leaves music completely behind.
“Yin and I were able to find a track of her performing ‘Ball and Chain’ live,” company founder Jessie Stinnett said. “She goes off in that track, speaking. She’s sharing her angst and her raw feelings at the time.”
As so often with Joplin, the feelings she describes include “a sense of exhaustion and a sense of lack of connectedness, lack of connection between people,” Stinnett said. “There’s a long solo for one of the dancers in that monologue. The dancer at that point is at her physical limit, and this piece is asking her to continue and continue and find the resources to continue, and she can. She finds new layers of depth in herself.”
This combination of relevance and innovative style are early hallmarks of Boston Dance Theater, whose appearance at Salem State is its third as a company. After debuting at Jacob’s Pillow in western Massachusetts last summer, they sold out two performances at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston about a month and a half ago.
“It certainly is our goal to bring forward certain topics, certain social content that feels relevant to us right now, and it is really important at this moment to make space for women to express themselves,” Stinnett said.
A Boston native, Stinnett trained at Boston Conservatory and at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in London. She has performed extensively abroad and at home.
She said that she always wanted to found a company in this region and did extensive research on Boston’s contemporary dance scene to discover gaps that a new group could fill.
Stinnett concluded that, while there are local companies offering contemporary dance, there were no repertory companies, which “exist to work with a variety of choreographers.”
“We could give Boston something different, be a springboard for exchange with international artists,” she said. “So we’re committed to bringing national and international, acclaimed voices to Boston, to create an ensemble of Boston-based dancers.”
Yin Yue, an award-winning choreographer with her own company in New York, is a native of China who created “Today for Now” specifically for Boston Dance Theater.
The group also commissioned “Deeper Inscription,” a work that audiences will also see at Salem State, from Sidra Bell, a choreographer from New York.
“Both Yin and Sidra came to Boston,” Stinnett said. “They joined us in the studio, joined us for two weeks and started from zero, with a few ideas that we and the choreographers were interested in.”
In addition to these two commissioned works, the program at Salem State will include two dances by Itzik Galili, an award-winning Israeli choreographer who serves with Stinnett as Boston Dance Theater’s co-artistic director.
“Man of the Hour” is a piece that Galili originally created in 2015 for eight male dancers, but which Boston Dancer Theater will present with eight female dancers.
Stinnett, who is dancing in this work, said that they have followed the original choreography, so that women are lifting women into the air when that is called for.
“The message for all of us is the female body is just as powerful, and we bring our own depth of experience into the work, which gives it a different tonality,” she said.
Galili is know for using a “visceral” dance vocabulary that feels almost violent at times, Stinnett said, and generates plenty of noise though sheer exertion, as dancers slap their bodies and smack into the stage.
“I think it’s really thrilling to experience women in a way that they are not traditionally and historically seen in dance concerts,” Stinnett said.
Galili’s other work, “Chameleon,” is in some ways the opposite of “Man of the Hour,” because it was created in collaboration with women and is composed of “stereotypical gestures that are associated with women,” Stinnett said.
The dancers display these gestures in succession, in a performance that Stinnett compares to watching a flip book.
“(A woman) experiences so many emotions and expresses herself in so many different ways in the course of a day, she’s constantly evolving,” just like a chameleon, she said. “So we see 100 different gestures and 60 personalities in the course of 10 minutes.”
If you go
What: Boston Dance Theater
When: Thursday, Jan. 17, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Sophia Gordon Center for Creative and Performing Arts, Salem State University, 356 Lafayette St., Salem
How much: $20 general admission, $15 for seniors and students 18 and up, and free for SSU students and those under 18
More information: www.salemstate.edu/arts or 978-542-6365