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Jacob's Pillow--Summer 2007 CurtainUp

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CurtainUp Feature
Jacobs Pillow — Summer 2007

Updated August 26th.
The Final Weekend: The return of the Hubbard Street Dancers & Jacob Pillow becomes an Official site on the Upper Housatonic African-American Historical Trail.

Ted Shawn Main Stage
No neons, no pedicabs, no taxi noises. . .just gardens, like this small oasis in front of the Ted Shawn Main Stage
(Photo: Elyse Sommer )

Doris Duke Studio Theater
For those eager to see the latest trends in dance, the Doris Duke Studio Theater is a favorite destination. (Photo: Elyse Sommer)
It's not in vain that going to Jacobs' Pillow is often referred to as "The Pillow Experience." Its roots are as an 18th Century family farm that became a station in the Underground Railroad during the mid-1850s. In the 1930s it made another kind of history when Ted Shawn turned it into a school and performance space for dancers. This rare blend of history, nature and art is now a thriving year-round institution and a premiere visitors' destination that has been designated a National Historic Landmark. Despite the crowds of dance enthusiasts of all ages and from all over the world who swarm to The Pillow each summer, it has not lost its rustic charm and aura of tranquility.

Since the grounds are so beautiful and there are so many things to see besides performances by world class dance companies in the Ted Shawn Theater and the Doris Duke Studio Theater, people in the know usually come early to spend some time roaming the grounds, browsing through the extensive historic archives in Blake's Barn, watching student rehearsals, listening to a pre-performance lectures. Whole families often attend the twilight time FREE inside/out performances. This informal outdoor setting is a great way to introduce young children to dance.

Those lucky enough to live nearby can themselves be part of the Jacobs Pillow scene by taking part in some of the community pilates and ballet classes. Everything about the "Pillow Experience " is a feast — naturally, a feast for the eyes, but also for foodies who have a choice of dining in the Pillow tent, snacking in the Pillow Pub or bringing their own picnics.

As a theater critic, the Berkshires' bustling theaters keep me too busy to enjoy the Pillow as often as I'd like. The summer 2007 season, the Pillow's 75th, is more tempting than ever with its theme, An American Spirit of Internationalism. The Pillow's executive director Ella Baff couldn't have chosen a more stellar dance diva than Ananiashivili to get things started with a Pillow Exclusive by her Georgia Ballet Company. If the final Sunday matinee performance I caught is any indication, it's going to be a grand season indeed.

	Nino Gogua in Mozartiana, surrounded by  young dancers from the School of American Ballet who were  contracted for the Pillow exclusive
Nino Gogua in Mozartiana, surrounded by young dancers from the School of American Ballet who were contracted for the Pillow exclusive.
(Photo: Maxwell Citizen Kepler)

The program started of with Mozartina, a ballet by Ananiashivili's compatriot George Ballanchine to the music of Tchaikovsky. The intimate chamber work featured virtuoso dancing and a charming group of young ballerinas from the School of American Ballet. Natia Sirbiladze's costumes added to the visual delight of the piece. This was followed by the full of bounce Second Before the Ground, an abstract ballet based on an African legend choreographed by Trey McIntyre with music by the Kronos Quartet. which made me want to rush out to buy some of their CDs. The finale, Don Quixote Grand Divertissement, featured Ananiashivili herself and to see her and her colleagues spinning and whirling was indeed a thrill. (It's hard to believe that the superstar ballerina only recently had a child).

Mark Morris
NathanTrice Company-Jacob's Pillow, Inside/Out
Nathan Trice & Company taking their bow after their Inside/Out performance. (Photo: Elyse Sommer)
When do theater journalists get to pat themselves on the back? During summer in the Berkshires it's when you pick a night when Mother Nature is the producer par excellence so that you can take in both Inside/Out and the main stage event. Wednesday, August 8th was just such a night. Perfect, for a picnic (a bravo to my companion who provided the goodies) and taking a look at Nathan Trice and his group featured this week at the Doris Duke second stage.

The two pieces performed under the umbrella title Rituals and Conversations, were choreographed by and featured Trice. The dancers' movements were measured yet incredibly agile and in perfect harmony with the idyllic surroundings. "Prophet and Betrayer", with music of Auro Part was a duet (Trice and Michael Walters); "Conversations", displayed the talents of a larger group and featured music by Keith Jarrett.

A caveat: These free performances are packed and latecomers will be lucky to find a rock to sit on. The in-the-know crowd brings its own chars.

Mark Morris Dancer-Amber Darragh
Amber Darragh in Italian Concerto (Photo: Stephanie Berger)
The Ted Shawn main stage program featured a favorite Pillow group, the Mark Morris dancers. While dance impresario Morris wasn't on stage as he was earlier in the season at Tanglewood's Ozawa Hall, many of his long-time performers, like petite bundle of dance dynamite Lauren Grant, were. The first half of the program began with a two-hander, Italian Concerto featuring Amber Darragh (pictured here) and John Heginbotham, both of whom are choreographers as well as dancers. The pair joined more than a dozen other Morris dancers in the evening's centerpiece, a fascinating new work called Looky. This highly theatrical piece was the only one of the four comprising the evening not accompanied by live music by Fellows of the Tanglewood Music center ( pianist Yauheniya Yesmanovich for Italian Concerto, pianist Yegor Shevstov for Candleflowerdance; pianists Tatiana Vassilieva and Bonnie Wagner and singers Katherine Whyte, Jamie Barton, Siddartha Misra and Misha Bouvier for the concluding Love Song Waltzes.)

Those who don't try to figure out exactly what's going on in every sequence of Looky, but just listen and look, will enjoy it most. It begins most intriguingly, everything dark, with the light on a piano. That piano seems to be played by an invisible musician but is actually a Disklavier (in essence, a high tech version of the old style player piano) digitized with composer Kim Gann's propulsive music. It's not Mozart, but it has it's own appeal. As the dancers amble on stage one gets the sense that they are viewers at a museum exhibit. subsequent sequences build on this impression of the dancers as variations of often participatory audiences — partying and drinking, arguing and even themselves taking the stage. As I said, you don't have to "get it" to enjoy the drama, and the Morris dancers in their stunning black and white costumes which are credited to multiple designers, including stage costumers Martin Pakledinaz and Isaac Mizrahi.

For details about the rest of the season including video images, check out the Jacob's Pillow web site. A caveat about the Inside/Out theater pictured below, bugs like the woods too so bring bug protection.
The Inside/Out stage when there's no free inside/out performances taking place but with the ever-present scenery provided by Mother Nature. Those benches fill up during performances, so come early or bring a chair!
(Photo: Elyse Sommer )

The Final Weekend:
The return of the Hubbard Street Dancers & Jacob Pillow becomes an Official site on the Upper Housatonic African-American Historical Trail

Jacobs Pillow-Derby House
Derby House, the little red 18th Century house was built as a stop on the Undergound Railroad
Pillow director Ella Baff introduced the crowd-pleasing Hubbard Street Dance Troupe at the Saturday matinee I attended as "our own national dance troupe." Ms. Baff ought to know, as the Pillow is certainly a national dance treasure in its own right.

The Hubbard selections were something of a love fest, with the empahsis on pieces with lots of sexy male-female interaction. It began with choreographer Twyla Tharp's aplty named Baker's Dozen in which the stage is filled with dancers coupling, uncoupling and re-pairing. This was followed by another piece with a self-explanatory title—The Kiss— by Susan Marshall. In this mesmerizingly sensuous duet in which two dancers are suspended from ropes. Typical of the way the company has always encouraged its dancers to create work, the program's middle section featured Lickety-Split by Hubbard's own Alejandro Cerrudo and another favorite Hubbard piece, Ohad Naharin's Passomezzo. The program concluded with a more internationally flavored world premiere, Gnawa, choreographed Nacho Duato and set to Spanish and North-African music.

It was a hot afternoon in more ways then one: hot and humid enough to keep lots of Pillow dance fans constantly in motion. . .lots of scintillatingly hot dancing.

Adding to the excitement of having this always hot at the box office troupe perform, was the celebration of the Pillow's place in African-American history— with the little red building known as The Derby House and once a station on the Underground Railroad officially made a site on the Upper Housatonic African-American Historical Trail.
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