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A CurtainUp BerkshiresBerkshire Review
The White Oak Dance Project at Jacobs Pillow
The Porches Inn

White Oak Dance Project allows us to understand Einstein's imagining of time. Their performances make it possible to envision all the times of modern dance bending together, refracting the past forward, the future back. They embody for us a delicious, vivid and absolute present.
--- from the Jacobs Pillow program notes.
How fitting, to launch Jacob Pillow's 70th Anniversary with an evening of Mikhail Baryshnikov and his ground breaking White Oak Project. The endurance and growth of the beautifully situated Pillow is one of the success stories of modern dance in America. The White Oak Project, while just a baby compared to Jacob's Pillow is also a major success story. For Baryshnikov it has meant a phase of his career that is as remarkable and admirable as his years in the world of classical ballet.

Those who haven't seen any of the ad hoc groups of dancers who have made some 40 national and international tours (over 600 performances) since 1990 when Baryshnikov and Mark Morris set out on a mission of establishing a small touring company which would afford established and emerging choreographers to create new dances and mount existing works for dancers from diverse backgrounds. The project takes its name from the White Oak Plantation -- a 7,500 acre wildlife preserve on the Florida-Georgia border owned by Baryshnikov's close friend and art patron, the late Howard Gilman. It is here, in specially built facilities, the dancers of White Oak Dance Project first came together and rehearsed and where they continue to enjoy the perfect setting to retreat and work on new projects.

Mikhail Baryshnikov
Mikhail Baryshnikov in "Largo" by Lucinda Childs (Photo: Scott Suchman)
Since Baryshnikov is rightly referred to as the guiding spirit behind the Project, there are some who have not seen a White Oak performance recently or ever, who think he no longer dances. Not true! At fifty-two, he still personifies poetry in motion and radiates charisma -- and he participates in every piece performed at the Ted Shawn Theater. Though he he moves at a slower pace, he retains the magnetism that has made him a living legend. What's truly amazing though is that he is very much a team dancer. Except for the opening solo, echoed in the last movement of the concluding dance, he blends into the group.

The Jacobs Pillow evening is typically White Oak in that it includes a variety of dances that validate the above quoted connection between Einstein's imagining of time and White Oak's embodiment of dance as a blend of past, present and future. The four selections go back to 1961 (Eric Hawkins' Early Floating) and move to the present with a commissioned work by cutting edge British choreographer Sarah Michelson. A White Oak regular, Lucinda Child provides the bookends, a solo originally danced by her and here by Baryshnikov (Largo) and her newest work, Chacony for the entire company.

The most unusual and likely to divide the younger and older members of the audience is Ms. Michelson's The Experts which features a video of a racing car which comes whizzing across an overhead screen (the kind used for translated text in operas) as often as the dancers group and regroup with groans of quot;Ahhhh" by some countered by a firm "yes" by others. I found The Experts somewhat too gimmicky and found the older Hawkins segment more impressive. At the Wednesday night performance I attended, when car #20 zoomed across the screen one last time, the audience errupted into loud cheers. I should add that this reaction was not universal, and some of the more conventionally inclined dance lovers were visibly less enthusiastic. My favorite overheard comments were "Ahhh -- No!" and, from one of the many Florida snowbirds who summer in the Berkshires, "I don't think this would go over big in Boynton Beach."

Anyone who wants to get better acquainted with Ms. Michelson's work, will be able to do so at Friday's Inside/Out -- the free programs at 6:30 on the beautiful outdoor stage with the beautiful Berkshire mountains and skyline as its background.

While White Oak programs often feature live music, the music here is disappointingly all "canned." The ensemble, however, is exemplary, with red-headed Emily Coates a standout.

For details about the many other exciting events to be performed the rest of the seasons, check out the website listed in the production notes below.

Dancers: Miguel Anaya, Mikhail Baryshikov, Zne Booker, Emily Coates, Jennifer Howard, Roger C. Jeffrey, Sonja Kostich, Rosalynde LeBlanc

Largo (2001), choreographed by Lucinda Childs Solo: Mikhail Baryshikov
Music: Arcangelo Corelli, Concerti Grossi Op. 6
Lighting: Les Dickert
Early Floating (1961), choreographed by Erick Hawkins
June 19 and 22nd: Mikhail Baryshnikov, Zane Booker, Emily Coates, Roger C. Jeffrey
June 20, 21 & 23: Miguel Anaya, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Roger C. Jeffrey, Rosalynde LeBlanc
Music: Lucia Diugoszewski, Five Curtains of Timbre
Staging & Direction: Katherine Duke
Set Design: Ralph Dorazio
Original costume design: Erick Hawkins; costume reconstruction: Deanna Berg
The Experts (2002) by Sarah Michelson
Music: Mike Iveson Jr
Dancers: Miguel Anaya, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Emily Coates, Jennifer Howard, Roger C. Jeffrey, Sonja Kostich, Rosalynde LeBlanc
Assistant to choreographer: Parker Lutz
Lighting: Frank DenDanto III
Costumes: Sarah Michelson & Tanya Uhlmann
Set Design and concept: Sarah Michelson
Set Construction: Frank Den Danto II with Christopher Buckley
Video: Mike Taylor
Chacony (2002) by Lucinda Childs Music: Benjamin Britten, Sinfonetta: Tarantella Presto Vivace; String Quartet #2: Chacony Sostenuto
Dancers: The Company
Lighting: Les Dickert
Costumes: Deanna Berg
Jacob's Pillow, Lee, MA Box Office(413/243-0745
Web Site:
Performances: June 19-23, 2002; Wed-Sat at 8pm, Sun at 2pm
Running time: Approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes, including two intermissions
Reviewed by Elyse Sommerbased on June 20th performance
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