Berkshire Theatre Festival

Summer 2005 at Jacob's Pillow CurtainUp

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A CurtainUp Berkshires Report
Summer 2005 at Jacob's Pillow
by Elyse Sommer

Updated 8/22/05
Cranwell Resort

The Porches Inn
Summer in the Berkshires is a cultural feast -- so much so that if you love dance, music and theater that you'll barely have time to improve your golf game or get in a daily swim or hike through the beautiful countryside. Yet, seasoned culture vultures manage to get it all in.

That goes for arts and entertainment writers like yours truly as well. While theater is my primary beat here as it is during the rest of the year in New York, I wouldn't miss a chance to pay at least a few visits to Jacob's Pillow -- or, as its longtime devotees call it, The Pillow. This season's first trip to Beckett was to see Garth Fagan's dancers perform. I'll be returning to The Pillow next month to see the Stockholm/59 North and the Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal. You'll find pictures and comments on these performances, with the last seen at the top.

Obviously, the three programs mentioned are just a sampling of what the season has to offer. What's more, the smaller (220 Seats) Doris Duke Studio, has its own line-up of eye-popping dance events.

If you've never been to the Pillow, don't just drive to Beckett in time to see the program for which you've bought tickets but plan to get there in time to amble around the well-maintained, woodsy grounds which encompass The Wetlands Trail at the north end of the Parking Lot. To recapture the aura of the early Pillow days when Ted Shawn's dancers served tea on a deck now known as the Harriet Freed Tea Garden, it's also nice to buy a snack at the Pillow Pub and relive that experience.

For full details about other things to see and do, including the FREE Inside/Out performances-- a great way to introduce young children to dance. For full details about how to get to Jacob's Pillow and what to see, check out the web site at

 Les Noces
Les Noces (Photo: Roland Lorente)
Last but no way least! My last visit of the season to the Pillow was an amazing experience. Artful, original and highly theatrical.

Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal (LGBCM) presented two long works, both for a large ensemble.

The first and most recent, TooT (2005) by Didy Veldman ran about 45 minutes and featured fifteen dancers. Inspired by the "Jazz Suite No. 2 " by the Russian composer Shostakovich, this piece, as the choreographer explains it " aims to sound a horn (which is what Toot means) and shock you out of your current state to make you aware of a new situation, a new layer of conscience." And did it ever. A few curved benches with a mirror finish on one side established a circus ring metaphor for the white-faced ensemble to evoke the struggle between individuality and society's often rigid anti-individualistic structure. The music served the piece well. The dancing was not only superb, but the dancers proved themselves to be fine actors and gamely took on speaking parts to make statements expressing their wishes (e.g. " I wish I could cry"). .

The 25-minute long Noces (2002) by Stijn Celis has already won the company wide acclaim, and no wonder. The twenty-four member ensemble piece is accompanied by Stravinsky's mesmerizing score of the same name. As dressed by Miriam Buether (also responsible for the effectively used props), we have twelve grooms and twelve brides engaged in a push toward, away, and together dance to the altar. The dancers were again white faced and barefoot -- and magnificent.

This company tours quite a lot so if you missed them at Jacob's Pillow maybe you can catch them in a dance venue near where you live. Hopefully, the Pillow's artistic director Ella Baff will persuade them to return in the not too distant future.

-- Above comments based on August 21 matinee performance.
Stockholm North
Image from In my Dream Team by Jorma Elo
Mats Bäcke)
Stockholm/59º North is a small company whose young dancers's beautifully controlled movements are big on energy and technical expertise. Jacob's Pillow director Ella Baff is justly proud to have established a relationship with this company which is named for its geographic location and dedicated to presenting the work of Swedish choreographers.

Except for the penultimate piece, I found the program presented during their August 3-7th visit to Beckett, unique and impressive, especially the opening piece choreographed by Jorma Elo. Titled In My Dream Team (2003) and danced to Carl Maria von Weber's gorgeous "La Spectre de la Rose" this is a homage to four company members. The video images interspersed throughout aren't at all gimmicky but give the piece a memorably personal feel. The piece is set in motion with a video of the three male dancers in their Stockhom studio where they talk about their work as they practice a movement from the very piece we're watching. The video segments include statistics -- age, height and weight, number of performances, and even the number and type of injuries they've had. Most endearing are the images of their mothers talking about their childhoods and how their dance ambitions manifested themselves. This may all sound more like a documentary than a dance piece, but it's a little of both, and it works. Obiously the focus is on the men: Johannes Ohman, Hans Nilsson Goran Svalberg, with Katarina Laitakari serving as something of a mannequin or prop partner as needed.

Choreographer Mats Ek's Pas de Danse (1991) which followed, was probably the most Swedish, since it was set to Swedish folk music. The interaction or pas-de-deux of the two couples -- Jan-Erik Wikstrom paired with Jeannette Diaz-Barboza and Karin Forslind with Nikolaus Fotiadis -- quite clearly and amusingly shows the tensions between the sexes.

The trio of post intermission pieces began with a rather odd and melodramatic new piece entitled By the Painless Arrow of Artemis (2005) -- choreographed by Virpi Pakhinen and pairing Karin Forslind andand Jan-Erik Wilkstrom -- and wound up with a comic parody of Carmen, n amusing The evening concludes with a 1994 parody of Carmen (the title's punctuation -- Carmen?! hints at what to expect) for five male dancers choreographed by Kenneth Kvarnstrom.

As for the penultimate piece -- Come Out (2003) choreographed by Orjan Andersson for four female dancers, I'm afraid I found Steve Reich's music so jarring that it distracted me completely from the dancers. In fact, the claustrophobic, invasive feeling of this in-your-face dissonance stayed with me long enough to diminish my enjoyment of the final piece. I'd like to see this group again -- but please, leave anything musicalized by Steve Reich back in Stockholm!

-- Above comments based on Sunday August 7th matinee performance.
Guy Thorne  & Annique Roberts
Guy Thorne & Annique Roberts in inga photo
(Photo: Greg Barrett)
Having seen Garth Fagan's choreography in The Lion King, the July 20th to 24th performance was a must-see for me. Watching the Fagan dancers is like watching a sculpture being made with carefully calibrated, balanced movemends.

For me, the most memorable part of the three part program was the first, DANCECOLLAGEFOROMIE, a tribute to Fagan's fellow Jamaican and friend, artist Romare Bearden (1911 - 1988). Fagan's collage makes no attempt to create imagery a la Bearden, but to reflect his and Bearden's mutual interests. The first part of this collage, Matter and Materiel had the ensemble showcasing their amazing balance and control as the created shapes and colors to the accompaniment of Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Minor. The middle section, Detail: Down Home Also, paired longtime company member Norwood Pennewell and Keisha Clarke who would fit right in on the stage where The Lion King is still playing to full houses. Pennewell and Clarke epitomize what one might call the Fagan look. The concluding Conjur Man was the most specific Bearden homage with the t colors and items found in Bearden's work (e.g., a ritual snake rattled by dancer Steve Humphrey), incorporated into the pulsating tableau danced to Jelly Roll Morton's Jungle Blues.

The first intermission brought a trilogy of danserus' contemplations on connecting, caring and sharing under the umbrella title _ _ _ _ing (Loving Aims, Caring Flames, Healing Pains & Lasting Gains). All were backed with music by Brahms-- an especially apt choice on a weekend when Tanglewood's new music director James Levine, thrilled music lovers with two evenings of all of Brahms' symphonies.

After the contemplative Brahms dances, it was on to a jazzy conclusion, with Translation Transition to music performed by the Jazz Jamaica All Stars.

-- Above comments based on Sunday July 24th matinee performance.

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