Doug Elkins at Jacob’s Pillow Seeing movement as a conversation
BECKET -- Before touring the world as a b-boy with various dance companies, Doug Elkins remembers needing to write dance terms on his arm to prepare for ballet and modern classes. Now a NYC-based choreographer, he returns to Jacob’s Pillow with performances inspired from Shakespeare, Charlie Chaplin skits and martial arts.
"Hapless Bizarre" and "Mo(or)town/Redux," both choreographed by doug elkins choreography etc. in collaboration with the dancers, will run at the Pillow through Sunday, Aug. 17.
"Mo(or)town/Redux" explores themes of power, love, jealousy and betrayal with a Motown-inspired soundtrack. according to a press release from Jacob’s Pillow.
In his own words, Elkins said the performance will look something like "’Cholly’ Atkins, The Jackson 5 and Shakespeare retelling ‘Othello’ on the sound set of ‘Soul Train.’
He draws his inspiration from his take on threads of literature, theater and pop culture.
"Doug’s mind is a factory of imagination. Š It’s vast, prolific and nimble," said Ella Baff, executive and artistic director at Jacob’s Pillow. "When we look at his work, it may seem simpler than it is -- until you look at it and realize how many different references are in his work. That vocabulary of work grows over the years."
While his second work, "Hapless Bizarre," doesn’t have a story line, Elkins said the piece uses movement to explore relationships, both romantic and platonic, from "what are the odds of us being friends" to the difference between "being in love" and "loving someone."
"There’s fever in those situations and proximity, which builds drama and humor. It’s not one or the other, but both," he said.
By leaving an open interpretation, audiences can experience the whole range of feeling.
"It’s not nearly romance, but frustration and confusion. It’s like a dance burrito, I hope it holds together," he said, laughing.
The music is an original mashup done by musical supervisors Justin Levine and Matt Stine, using music from Alex Timber’s "Rocky Musical," David Byrne, Fatboy Slim and more.
Elkins felt the Motown style has "a kind of oddness, sometimes whimsy sound," fit for "Hapless Bizarre."
Although he did not originally identify as a dancer, former Big Apple Circus performer Mark Gindick performs as a new vaudeville clown in "Hapless Bizarre." A modern vaudeville clown does not need to wear traditional circus clown makeup or wardrobe. Gindick has a background in clowning and physical comedy and works as a coach and teacher for clown workshops in theater.
When blocking scenes for Gindick, Elkins took a closer look at silent film comedians Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, as well as musical comedies. He found humor in skits that were setups for structure as jokes, such as asking a table lamp to dance or out on a picnic.
"What can be funny can also be incredibly insightful," Baff said. "He always casts people who can act, even if not in a conventional way. His casts have a natural stage presence, and [audiences] never feel performances are forced or fake."
When casting dancers for the show, said he Elkins looks for talented dancers who aren’t afraid to fail.
"Fail, fail again, fail better," Elkins said, quoting Samuel Beckett. "It was ironic that as [Gindick] was working on stuff, I said to him, ‘You are becoming really good at this, I need you to practice less and look less rehearsed.’"
The choreography developed through collaboration with the dancers sn a series of trial and error, capturing the creative process of being vulnerable and human.
"I love that I get to hang out with colleagues who love experimenting with timing and proximity," Elkins said. This experimental process is similar to improvisation or the way children play. "The idea is not to win or lose, but to keep going."
Elkins said he is thrilled to be returning to the Pillow to show audiences what he and the company have been working on.
"Returning to the Pillow is always special for me -- it’s a treat and pleasure for us," he said.
In 1982, Elkins attended the School at Jacob’s Pillow on a full scholarship, where he took ballet, modern and hip-hop classes.
"I grew up with social dancing and martial arts," Elkins said. "My work is always movement, and the driving force of my work is relational. I love people being in each other’s orbit and seeing how it affects a group. I love movement as conversation."
If you go ...
What: doug elkins choreography, etc. physical comedy, dance, romance
When: Wednesday, Aug. 13, to Saturday, Aug. 16, at 8:15 p.m.; Saturday abd Sunday, Aug. 16 and 17, at 2:15 p.m.
Where: Jacob’s Pillow,
358 George Carter Road, Becket
Admission: $45, $22
Information: (413) 243-0745 jacobspillow.org