Observations/opinions: Dynamic choices begin the 85th Jacob’s Pillow season

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By Saturday, Jul 15 Arts & Entertainment
Christopher Duggan
Jessica Lang's 'Lyric Pieces,' in performance at Jacob's Pillow.

Becket — I really don’t think there is any such thing as objectivity. Therefore, this column is called observation/opinions rather then a review. My opinion is informed by five decades of dancing and watching dance but that does not make it more valid then anybody else’s.

I express my observations in the hope that they will shed more light on the things I am discussing and perhaps offer the reader a new path to seeing, appreciating and enjoying dance.

This season at Jacob’s Pillow started off with some dynamic choices. It began with the Gala, which was a spectacle on its own, and all who attended raved about it. (I had the “Berkshire Flu” and could not stop coughing, so I stayed away.)

JonahBokaer_2017bTrisolini-10

Laura Gutierrez, James Koronis and Betti Rollo in Jonah Bokaer’s ‘Rules of the Game’ at Jacob’s Pillow. Photo: Brooke Trisolini

The first performance I attended was by an artist, Jonah Bokaer, who works collaboratively between his musical and visual partners as well as the Pillow’s new director, Pamela Tatge. “Pamela chose to engage so thoughtfully with my work, as to conceive of a new programmatic combination,” he said. The result was a most satisfying evening.

Jonah is a choreographer who is in total control of his work. It is carefully crafted, subtle, and innovative with moments of sly humor. It is gracious, full-bodied, seemingly effortless and without affectation thanks to his wonderful dancers. It is also harmoniously attuned to both the sound scape and the visual elements.

The first piece, Occupant, inspired by the American playwright Edward Albee, is a collaboration of artists that includes: scenographer Daniel Arsham, dramaturge Gavin Kroeber, composer Ryoji Ikeda, sound designer Jesse Stiles, vocals by Jonah Bokaer and Valda Setterfield, and costumes by The Fabric Workshop and Museum. The result is a minimalist but richly evocative work of art.

The second piece is “a study” for Occupant, a solo danced by Jonah. Here, the viewer gets a glimpse into the fundamentals of the full dance and has the pleasure of seeing a stunningly beautiful dancer. I cannot end this without saying, as a dancer myself, that he has the most beautiful and articulate feet I have ever seen.

The third and final piece, Rules of the Game, has a score by Pharrell Williams, which is unlike his usual pop-infused singles. It does not scream or stand out on its own but joins the choreography seamlessly. The dance is inspired by a play by Pirandello, although familiarity with the play is not necessary to appreciate the dance.

Ian Berg, Starinah Dixon, Donnetta Jackson,and Jumaane Taylor in 'Love Supreme' from Michelle Dorrance's 'TIRELESS: A Dance Experience.' Photo: Christopher Duggan

Ian Berg, Starinah Dixon, Donnetta Jackson,and Jumaane Taylor in ‘Love Supreme’ from Michelle Dorrance’s ‘TIRELESS: A Dance Experience.’ Photo: Christopher Duggan

Week three brought us Tireless: A Tap Dance Experience curated by Michelle Dorrance. What can I say about Tireless…it was exhausting and exhilarating (no pun intended). Michelle Dorrance is an exceptional talent. She is not only a tap virtuoso but one of the most intelligent, insightful people working in the field. Her introduction to the extraordinary performers on the program gave us insight into the evolution of the genre and offered me and the audience a new way to look at the field.

The first and last piece showcased remarkable performers, astounding us with their musicality and virtuosity. They took my breath away. The second work on the program was Aun a solo improvisation by dancer Reona Sea and musician Takashi Sea. Their work is unlike tap I had ever imagined. It is spare and terse. Dorrance observes, “There is something about the bass that is so different from what we usually hear. The performance spans from abstract narrative to musical ideas ‘and’ and becomes the score.”

I am grateful for Michelle’s vision, to Ella Baff for introducing her and supporting her at the Pillow, and to Pamela Tatge for inviting her back again to create this presentation.

I was sorry to have missed NW Dance Project during week four, especially because the evening featured “cutting edge work” by choreographers that I was not familiar with — always a draw for me.

Giulia Carotenuto, Toni Melaas, Alicia Ohs, Brandon Washington, Sean Donovan, in Faye Driscoll's "Thank You For Coming: Attendance." Photo: Christopher Duggan

Giulia Carotenuto, Toni Melaas, Alicia Ohs, Brandon Washington, Sean Donovan, in Faye Driscoll’s “Thank You For Coming: Attendance.” Photo: Christopher Duggan

Week three was thrilling. I have never seen anything like the piece offered by Faye Driscoll. Again, kudos to Tatge for having the guts to offer this challenging work. Driscoll used the space in the Doris Duke Theatre as it has never been used before. The stage was initially in the center of the space with the audience sitting on the floor or standing around it. The space morphed as the piece progressed in ways that gently prodded the audience to help shape the space. The performers were skilled movers and fantastic actors. Humor in dance is not easy to achieve but during the performance I either had a smile on my face or was laughing out loud.

The dancers in Jessica Lang’s company are devine. Lang has developed a clean, clear, unmannered exceptionally brilliant group of dancers. Each one is soloist material yet they can become a flawless ensemble. As Brian Schaefer points out in his Pillownotes that accompany the house program, “Lang is polished and playful, unafraid of risk but also unafraid to please. I would suggest this as a great introduction to anyone who has any hesitation or fear of ‘not getting it’.”

Each week offers an exceptional balance. The Duke offers, wonderful new visions. In the Ted Shawn more accessible work: tap, ballet and mainstream modern. This week is no different with the venerable Paul Taylor Dance Company. Throughout the years, he has given much to think about, many wonderful works and introduced us to generations of awesome dancers.

It will be a trip down memory lane for me with the expectation of seeing new work by Taylor. While in the Duke I look forward to a dancer and company I have never seen, Roy Assaf Dance.


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