ON DANCE: Don’t miss Doug Varone at Jacob’s Pillow

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By Friday, Aug 4 Arts & Entertainment
Hayim Heron
Alex Springer of Doug Varone and Dancers in ‘Boats Leaving,’ at Jacob's Pillow this weekend.

I loved, loved, loved Doug Varone and Dancers so much that I hope to get to another performance this weekend. You have a chance to see this remarkable work as well as Kyle Abraham/Abraham.In.Motion. YOU HAVE A CHANCE TO SEE THIS WORK Friday, Saturday and Sunday. DON’T MISS IT !

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Pamela Tatge, in curating her first season, has offered many artists who push this art form. She asks that the audience expand their taste to include not only ballet and traditional modern, and tap but artists breaking the mold.

Maura Keefe has been Scholar-in-Residence for many years. Her mandate is to provide audiences with a broader context for viewing dance, which she does brilliantly. After seeing ate9, Compagnie Marie Chouinard and Doug Varone & Dancers, I was reminded of something she wrote earlier this summer.

Compagnie Marie Chouinard in ‘Henri Michaux: Mouvements.’ Photo: Sylvie-Ann Paré.

Compagnie Marie Chouinard in ‘Henri Michaux: Mouvements.’ Photo: Sylvie-Ann Paré.

“In its original context, the avant-garde refers to the foremost part of an army advancing in battle. Who would those soldiers have been? Would we describe them as brave or foolhardy? Historians and art critics co-opted the term “avant-garde” from the military for good reason. In its more standard use today, we think of artists at the forefront, exploring and experimenting.”

This includes artists who work in silence, use text, explore varied technologies — electronically and computer generated music, lighting, as well as collaborating with and influenced by visual artists and filmmakers. I love what dance writer Sally Banes’ has to say: “The history of avant-garde dance is a braid in which strands from history of the other arts are entwined.”

I hope this information will encourage you to be adventurous and give the many performances coming up this season, by artists unfamiliar to you, a shot. Please take a chance. You might be surprised. If you don’t love it, just respect it.

Marie Chouinard offered a rather tame program by my standards. Somehow it pushed buttons. Some folks really did not like it. I loved it.

In the first work 24 Preludes by Chopin we were treated to beautiful dancers embracing a dance vocabulary that is personal and refreshing. This choreographer surprises us by her choice of a well-known classical work. Each prelude took its inspiration from the music. That gave it structure, texture.

Each section had a very different look. Each section had its own atmosphere, but in spite of her unique vocabulary, I found the movements themselves repetitious.

Carol Prieur from Compagnie Marie Chouinard in ‘Henri Michaux: Mouvements.’ Photo: Marie Chouinard

Carol Prieur from Compagnie Marie Chouinard in ‘Henri Michaux: Mouvements.’ Photo: Marie Chouinard

This certainly was not the case in the second work. Both sound and movement were unique. The score of the second work transposes 65 pages of India ink drawings and a poem from a book, Henri Michaux : Movements, into a captivating, innovative dance. The score, that is, the structure of the work, takes the book page by page as the impetus for movement. Each image is projected on the back wall. The dancers then seem to fly onto the stage rendering, with their bodies, impressions of the image. This yielded surprising original shapes and energy. Choreography and artistic direction/Marie Chouinard… sound environment/Edward Freedman –- original music/Louis Dufort — voice/Gerard Reyes. These elements meld into a dance rich, innovative, exciting and delicious.

Now I had quite a different reaction to AteNine.

The movement style is called Gaga created by Ohad Naharin in Israel with the Batsheva Company. Danielle Agami has a deep understanding of this style as well as her own voice as a dance maker. The works on the program were chosen to show how she has found her own voice as well as her mastery of the style. And in that regard it was very successful. I loved seeing dancers of all shapes and sizes digest this very difficult style.

AteNine in Danielle Agami’s ‘EXHIBIT b.’ Photo: Christopher Duggan

AteNine in Danielle Agami’s ‘EXHIBIT b.’ Photo: Christopher Duggan

Gaga exploits control, demands precision and focus on details. The movement is tense, hard-hitting, combative and militant. It is probably no surprise that it originated in a country full of conflict, frequent life threatening events and a strong will to survive. There is of course another side to life there — spirited, creative and thriving.

The first piece attempted surprise. The audience entered to find dancers seated upstage in groups or alone doing various tasks. A small remote controlled car bounded around in a random fashion. There were balloons being blow up and released making funny sounds, flower arranging, popcorn eating and a man reading from a music stand, apparently learning movements. The music accompanying this event had a lightness that disappeared once the dance got under way.

Agami eats up the stage. I love her use of space.

What kept me from loving this and the second work Vickie was the unrelenting intensity of the movement. I respect how difficult this style is and I respect Agami and the dancers for pushing themselves to the limit of each and every movement. But instead of exciting me, I began to loose interest. Both pieces actually generate an emotional vibe. I do not know if the mostly passive affect of the dancers is purposeful. It could be. Merce Cunningham’s work, which I love, is too abstract for some in part because of the neutrality of the dancers’ expression. It is well suited to his style. It seems to me that Agami’s work, which has inherent drama, would be enhanced if the dancers conveyed emotion.

This saddened me because Ohad and his first wife Mari were very much part of my early years as a dancer, wife and mother. None of us could have guessed what was ahead. Mari was my first friend to pass away. She was way too young and it was very hard on Ohad. She was an incredible dancer with the Alvin Ailey. Mari left Ailey to work with Ohad as he forged a completely new direction. I wanted to love this.

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For tickets and information on these and other Jacob’s Pillow performances, consult the Berkshire Edge Calendar, or the Jacob’s Pillow web site, box office and calendar.


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