DANCE: Jacob's Pillow marks its 80th anniversary

Friday December 28, 2012

In our world of dance, the year 2012 was significant, not only in celebration of the 80th birthday-anniversary of America's senior dance festival -- the one here at Jacob's Pillow -- but also in reaffirming the notion that several other stages hereabouts have become most hospitable as well to Terpsichore's muse: Among them are the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, Tanglewood's Seiji Ozawa Hall and Mass MoCA's Hunter Center.

The Pillow's 80th was a grand affair indeed, with most of the stops pulled out to toast the house that Ted Shawn built and its sumptuous surrounding campus.

With little doubt, the return of the great Joffrey Ballet after a half-century's absence here was the Pillow's most generous gift to itself as a fitting season finale. But much that transpired prior to that triumphant finishing touch justified applause, beginning in June with a band of energetic and lithe Brazilians. They are called Mimulus, and they arrived with some persuasive demonstrations on how ballroom and modern dance easily can become intimate companions, in an intriguing evening-length discourse in movement inspired by the deceptively intricate textile artwork of a 50-year asylum inmate, the legendary Arthur Bispo do Rosário.

The Joffrey, still the company of soloists that was the inspired intention of its innovative founder Robert Joffrey, delivered solid evidence of its enduring reputation and virtuosity with three striking ballets mostly fresh to all except those who have been fortunate enough to travel in recent years to Chicago, the troupe's home base.

In the engagement's world premiere, Stanton Welch, the Australian choreographer and artistic director of the Houston Ballet, mined the rich opportunities for solo instrumentalists in John Adams' score, to create spectacular solos and duets for the gifted Joffrey dancers in "Son of Chamber Symphony." It was a success all around, in settings employing the rough wooden backdrop of the Pillow's rear stage wall, cunningly designed costumes and lighting.

The other dances are certainly worthy of mention:

n "Age of Innocence" (2008), an exercise in Victorian caution inspired by Jane Austin's oeuvre, rather than Edith Wharton's, was to Philip Glass' Third Symphony and more lyrical film music of Thomas Newman;

n "Bells" (2011), a dance by Yuri Possokhov, a former Bolshoi dancer and now resident choreographer at San Francisco Ballet, filled with Russian angst and folk nuances emerging with Rachmaninoff duo piano literature.

Two other ballet companies were part of the festivities: Making an impressive debut, the Hong Kong Ballet displayed the western sensibilities of Madeleine Onne, its artistic director, a former dancer with the Royal Swedish Ballet. Especially notable was "Luminous," a series of pas de deux by a fascinating new voice in choreography, Peter Quanz, exploring relationships in various stages of life juxtaposed deftly with Marjan Mozetich's unrelenting minimalist string score, "Affairs of the Heart."

Canada's Royal Winnipeg Ballet, in its first appearance here in 48 years offered a youthful, exuberant account of "Carmina Burana," set to Carl Orff's sacred and profane cantata, along with two studies in relationships, another from Quanz' talented studio called "In Tandem," danced to Steve Reich's Pulitzer-winning Double Sextet, and Montreal-based choreographer Mark Gooden's brief, but memorable, six-minute pas de deux, "Moonlight Sonata," nicely amplifying Beethoven's keyboard intentions.

Although Bill T. Jones stopped dancing five years ago, he was very much a presence on stage during "Story Time," his new dance-theater piece that proved to be one of the most interesting evenings this summer at the Pillow. Its basic premise had Jones seated at a table reading stories created by him, each lasting for one minute over a period of 70 of those minutes, as nine members of the Bill T. Jones/ Arnie Zane Dance Co., in various configurations, performed with Ted Coffey's versatile and ambient score within 11 designated equal spaces on stage not occupied by Jones.

Inspired by a similar experiment in music by the seminal American composer John Cage, "Story Time" demanded as much concentration of its spectators as anything recalled in the recent annals of dance.

For sheer athleticism, hail to the energetic band of 11 self-taught young men plucked from the favelas of Rio de Janeiro by Mourad Merzouki, Compagnie Käfig's artistic director, to infuse the ever-expanding world of dance with their signal brand of hip-hop vocabulary. They did, successfully, and they'll be back at the Pillow in late June with the same program created for them by Merzouki. Mission accomplished.

Like many other New Yorkers, Paul Taylor has found an appealing second home in Great Barrington, at the Mahaiwe, and the following for this superb veteran choreographer is growing each year. For this, the sixth annual visit of the Paul Taylor Dance Company, we were treated to Taylor's dark side in a newish work, from 2011, "The Uncommitted." Loneliness and longing for connection, relationships that never quite happen and those that go bitterly sour are the currency of the 11 performers -- five men, six women -- in movement often grounded near the floor. Set to four short Minimalist pieces of Arvo Pärt "The Uncommitted" unfolds before Santo Loquasto's backdrop of despairing grey abetted by Jennifer Tipton's purposeful bleak lighting. To sooth sagging spirits, Taylor provided some old friends, "Aureole," his graceful 50-year-old paean to pure dance set to Handel; "Troilus and Cressida," (who could not smile to the "Dance of the Hours" from Ponchielli's "La Gioconda"), and "Mercuric Tidings," embracing the lyrically fluid Taylor set to Schubert.

In this corner, and in that of Mark Morris as well, dance and live music are inseparable, hence the annual visit of the Mark Morris Dance Group to Tanglewood's Seiji Ozawa Hall to form a partnership with the resident group of fellows is a summer highlight. Lucy Shelton, the Tanglewood Music Center's soprano specialist in new music, articulated handsomely Dame Edith Sitwell's unconventional poetry in a performance of "Façade" as a fine sextet of players dealt handily with Sir William Walton's equally idiosyncratic score.

Morris added dances to compositions of Schubert and Hummel to flesh out another evening that, not surprisingly, proved a triumph both for dance and for music.


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