BECKET — In the program note for her “Home Studies: Parlor Floor Life,” choreographer Helen Pickett writes, vis-à-vis the process of making and rehearsing the ballet with her dancers over Zoom, “We needed to create, so we found our way. Dance prevailed.”
Dance has also prevailed at Jacob’s Pillow this summer, after an especially difficult period that included the cancellation of its 2020 Festival and then the shocking loss, to fire, of one of its two iconic theaters. But this beloved, historic institution has pressed on too, and this week is celebrating the end of another inspiring summer Festival, albeit one held entirely on its beautiful outdoor stage. Pickett’s dance is one of five on this week’s “Ballet Coast to Coast” program, which features a few dancers each from Boston Ballet, Houston Ballet, and, from Seattle's Pacific Northwest Ballet.
“Home Studies,” originally created for and presented in a virtual format, has been “reconceived” and slightly expanded for live performance. The three Boston representatives — Lia Cirio, Paul Craig and My’Kal Stromile — convey the sense of private lives confined in small indoor spaces. The three might be roommates, with Cirio and Craig romantically involved and Stromile sometimes tipping that number into a crowd. Stromile, however, isn’t presented as a miserable loner, but a restless spirit itching for release. Pickett has made for him a handsome, long solo that begins and ends with him on a chair, whipping his arms and legs into etched, overlapping angles, as if his limbs are a jigsaw puzzle that he’s putting together and taking apart. Conversely, when upright, he moves his expressive body with a wonderful combination of tensile delicacy.
Along with Cirio and Craig’s funny “I’m wide awake! How about you?” duet, they also share a tender one, filled with soft, slippery partnering. It hints at the various journeys within a relationship: negotiation and uncertainty, but also yearning and intimacy.
That program opener has a luminous bookend in the last piece, Alejandro Cerrudo’s haunting “Second to Last” from 2013. The dance’s structure is simple, a series of five slightly overlapping duets, performed by members of each company. The dancers lift or lean into one another with a kind of tactile carefulness, which, along with the elegiac nature of the music — Arvo Pärt’s searing “Spiegel im Spiegel” — lends an air of poignant mystery to the work. As I’ve wondered when I’ve seen the piece before, are these lovers saying goodbye, or are these memories of past loves?
I still wish there was at least one same-sex couple within the five, something noticeably missing from most ballets in the past. Justifiably, that absence has been criticized as another area — like its overwhelming whiteness — where the ballet world has been woefully out of touch. However, this Pillow program is an optimistic sign, with welcome diversity among performers and choreographers.
The late (great) Ulysses Dove’s “Red Angels,” originally created for New York City Ballet in 1994, is thrilling, and not only for the audience: Richard Einhorn’s exciting composition for electric violin is matched by Dove’s hair-raising choreography. In this non-stop, ever-so-slightly tongue-in-cheek tour de force — staged here by Pacific Northwest Ballet’s director Peter Boal, who was in the original cast — there is little if any room for hesitation on the dancers’ end. On Wednesday afternoon, the cast fared best in their solos, each lending intriguingly individual airs to their physical efforts: Christopher D’Ariano charismatic yet with a slightly fraught tension; Elle Macy, with a deliciously icy-then-smoldering precision; Amanda Morgan, with her glorious arms and legs going on for days (and days), cool, enigmatic; and Dylan Wald, whose nerves of steel come with a matching (perhaps too humorless?) gaze.
Though all-too-brief, the excerpts of Justin Peck’s “Reflections,” which he made for Houston Ballet in 2019, are strong enough to make a lasting impression and to regret the lack of more. In movements reminiscent of the male duet in George Balanchine’s neoclassic paragon “Agon,” (indeed, it’s likely that Peck, a former dancer at and now resident choreographer at New York City Ballet, is purposely quoting here, in homage to City Ballet’s co-founder) Harper Watters and Chandler Dalton mirror each other in tendu, or cross their forearms like swords. At some point, Karina González, a lyrical sprite, slips in between the men, but slips back out just as easily, happy to frolic on her own as the men repeat their duet. Watters and González join for their own duet as well, a sweet, breezy lark that ends with them tilting, as if with the wind, and running off, as if into the sunset.
In “Reflections” and in their sublime pas de deux in the excerpts from Houston Ballet director Stanton Welch’s 2013 “Sons de L’âme,” set to piano works by Frédéric Chopin, Watters and González reveal that they possess one of those surprisingly rare “true” dance partnerships. They complement one another, they breathe and move as one: they connect. Even the more virtuosic lifts are seamless and calm, yet there is a wonderful spark, an undercurrent to their serenity. This understated quality informs Watters’ lovely solo (itself perhaps Welch’s own nod to Jerome Robbins, City Ballet’s other famous choreographer), sprinkled with stylized folk-dance mazurkas as well as good old balletic balancés. The movement streams out of González and Watters like a flowing river, like it’s the most natural thing in the world.