Berkshire Cultural Preview June 15-20

This coming week and weekend features a host of season openings, including Jacob’s Pillow, Berkshire Playwrights Lab, and PS21: Performance Spaces for the 21st Century, as well as a Latin cabaret performance by household name Lucie Arnaz at Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, Mass., and a CD release concert by top regional artist Bobby Sweet and a phenomenal series of back-to-back Americana and roots-rock concerts at Club Helsinki Hudson.


Keigwin + Company dancers in "Runaway" (photo by Matthew Murphy)

Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival officially kicks off its 2011 season on Saturday, June 18, with a star-studded Season Opening Gala featuring performances by dancers of Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève performing Benjamin Millepied’s (fresh off his role in Black Swan and new father with Natalie Portman as of yesterday) duet Closer; dynamic performances by David Neumann, KEIGWIN + COMPANY, and the Mark Morris Dance Group; and a solo performance by acclaimed pianist and composer Philip Glass, whose music is used extensively by modern dance groups that perform at Jacob’s Pillow.

Crystal Pite (photo by Joris JanBos/courtesy Jacob's Pillow)

The gala will also mark the official opening of a dance photography exhibit by famed celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz (Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair) created especially for the Pillow. The evening also features a world premiere by Houston Ballet artistic director Stanton Welch performed by dancers of The School at Jacob’s Pillow Ballet Program; and the presentation of the fifth annual Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award executive and artistic director Ella Baff to Crystal Pite, choreographer and artistic director of Kidd Pivot Frankfurt RM.

The Gala performance is followed by dinner, a live auction, and dancing. The 2011 Gala Honorary co-chairs are Benjamin Millepied, New York City Ballet principal dancer and choreographer of the Oscar-winning film Black Swan, and Mercedes Ellington, veteran Broadway performer and choreographer and granddaughter of jazz legend Duke Ellington. The Gala co-chairs are Jacob’s Pillow Board Member Hunter K. Runnette, Dr. Mark P. VandenBosch, Dan Schulman, and Jennie Kassanoff.

The Season Opening Gala is a benefit event; funds raised support the artistic and educational programs of Jacob’s Pillow, a not-for-profit organization.

For more information on tickets or tables – both of which are still available — contact Gwen Franklin at 413.243.9919 x126.


Playwright Jonathan Caren

The Berkshire Playwrights Lab kicks off its 2011 summer season of staged readings in Great Barrington, Mass., with The Recommendation, written by Jonathan Caren and directed by Daniel Winerman, tonight (Wednesday, June 15) at 7:30 at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center. The cast includes Francois Battiste, Chad Gittens, and Charles Socarides. As always, admission to the readings are free but reservations are required.

“This play is a bold, theatrical, and shockingly honest look at modern friendship from a thrilling new voice,” says Matthew Penn, co-artistic director of Berkshire Playwrights Lab. It asks the questions: Who is your best friend? The person who treats you the nicest? The person who knows you the best? Or is it the one who owes you the most?

Jonathan Caren is a recent graduate of the Lila Acheson Wallace Playwright’s Program at The Juilliard School. Daniel Winerman directed readings for Berkshire Playwrights Lab in 2009 and 2008 (Anna Ziegler’s Variations on a Theme and Sam Marks’ The Old Masters).

Founded in 2007 by theater professionals Joe Cacaci, Jim Frangione, Bob Jaffe, and Matthew Penn, the Berkshire Playwrights Lab is the area’s only theater dedicated exclusively to encouraging, developing, and presenting new plays. Through readings — and in the future through workshops and fully staged productions — the Lab provides emerging and established writers with a professional and creative environment, while offering audiences the engaging and provocative opportunity to share in the dramatic evolution of premiere works.

Mahaiwe Box Office
14 Castle St.
Great Barrington, Mass.

Berkshire Playwrights Lab




Four Nations Ensemble

PS21: Performance Spaces for the 21st Century in Chatham, N.Y., kicks off its sixth season with Improv Café by the Walking the dog Theater’s OFF LEASH! Ensemble on Saturday, June 18 at 8 followed by the sixth annual Paul Grunberg Memorial Bach Concert on Father’s Day, Sunday, June 19, at 3. Titled “Paternal Influences,” the program includes four pieces performed by Andrew Appel and the Four Nations Ensemble.

Similar in format and style to the popular television show Whose Line Is It Anyway? the fast-paced Improv Café features skits, games, and parodies based on audience suggestions. “The performances are not scripted and the comedians create dialog, setting, characters and plot on the spot. It’s an interactive show where the audience experiences the art of spontaneous imagination as actors think and act on their feet,” explains WTD executive artistic cirector David Anderson. “The audience plays an integral role in how things unfold, as the performers ask them to contribute ideas that lead and motivate the players. Great suggestions make for inspiring sketches and no two shows are ever the same.”

Seating for this event is cabaret-style, similar to PS21’s Friday Night Swing Dances. Attendees are encouraged to bring any food or beverage that they might enjoy, as they can eat and drink while being entertained.

For the Father’s Day Bach concert, held in memory of Paul Grunberg, the late husband of PS21 president Judy Grunberg, Andrew Appel said, ”The pieces we’ve selected, some famous and the others so easily loved, are perfect to celebrate the month of June, Father’s Day, and Judy’s husband who so loved Bach.”

The first piece to be performed will be Vivaldi’s Cello concerto in G. “For Bach, Vivaldi was a musical paternal influence,” said Appel. “Bach’s entire way of writing changed after he got to know the Vivaldi concertos. He incorporated Vivaldi’s methods and values into his own music while holding onto the German traditions and French styles he knew as a very young man.”

Bach had 20 children, four of whom became musicians. On this day, PS21 will feature work by two of his sons, Carl and Johann Christian. “The boys responded to their father very differently,” said Appel. “Johann Christian moved to Italy, became Catholic and transfigured himself into a modern Italian opera composer. Carl wrote in two styles: one introspective and thoughtful, the other dramatic… storm at sea writing. Between the two we can see the roots of the composers who have thrilled us for 200 years, Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven.”

The Four Nations Ensemble brings together soloists who are leading exponents of period instrument and vocal performance. Founded in 1986 by former Juilliard students, this ensemble now includes Andrew Appel (artistic director, harpsichord and fortepiano), Charles Brink (traverso), Krista Bennion Feeney (first violin), and Loretta O’Sullivan (cello). In its 25 years, the group has performed extensively throughout the United States.

PS21 is located at 2980 Route 66, one mile north of the village of Chatham. For tickets or information, visit PS21: Performance Spaces for the 21st Century or call 518.392.6121.


Lucie Arnaz

Award-winning Broadway, film and television star Lucie Arnaz brings her one-woman cabaret, Latin Roots! to the Barrington Stage Company, 30 Union Street, Pittsfield on Monday, June 20 at 7. The program is a musical celebration of Arnaz’s Cuban heritage, as Arnaz playfully winds her way through pop contemporary sounds from south of the border to enduring American standards by Berlin, Mercer and Porter to fiery Latin classics made famous by her father, Desi Arnaz.

Arnaz’s career spans more than 40 years with stage appearances (They’re Playing Our Song, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels), film (The Jazz Singer), television (Here’s Lucy, The Lucy Show), producing, directing, recording and live concerts. She is a proud member of the Board of Directors of the American Theatre Wing, president of the Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Center, and with her brother, Desi, she manages Desilu, too, LLC. With her husband, actor Laurence Luckinbill, she manages five children: Nick, Ben, Simon, Joe and Katharine.

Tickets are $45 (Section A); $35 (Section B); $25 (Section C); VIP Tickets are $75 (includes premium seating and reception with Lucie Arnaz) and are available by calling 413.236.8888, at the Barrington Stage Box Office (30 Union Street), or online by visiting Barrington Stage Company.


Club Helsinki in Hudson, N.Y., takes on the feel of a heartland roots-rock roadhouse this weekend, with concerts by the Fred Eaglesmith Band on Friday, June 17, and a double-bill featuring Dave Alvin & The Guilty Ones and Mexican surf-rockers Los Straightjackets on Sunday evening, June 19.

Fred Eaglesmith (photo by Kori Heppner)

Canada is of course part of America, and no one is more American and Americana than Fred Eaglesmith, who writes acute (and often clevely disguised ironic) portraits of middle-American life. Obsessed by cars, trains, guns, and trailer parks, Eaglesmith is as much a novelist of contemporary small-town life as he is a rocker. His 18th album, Cha Cha Cha, splashes the rock style with 1950s movie music, soulful backing vocals, dance rhythms and more. He reconfigures one of the most potent essences of popular music into something both timeless yet urgently contemporary.

Eaglesmith sensed a need in these hard times to “turn up the amps up and smoke it. People are just so happy because they’re hearing enough of how bad things are on the news. They don’t need to hear it in the clubs right now. And people are coming to us and saying: it’s so great to see someone alive again. And it’s so good to see a band having fun, because nobody is anymore,” Eaglesmith explains. Anyone who has ever seen a Fred Eaglesmith show knows that fun is what it’s all about.

Eaglesmith has earned a singular and impressive legacy of achievements. Over the years the Juno Award-winning artist has had his music used in films by Martin Scorsese, James Caan and Toby Keith, scored a hit #1 on the bluegrass charts (“Thirty Years of Farming,” recorded by James King), and had his songs included in the curriculum at two colleges. His fans are so devoted that he is the host and centerpiece of a number of music festivals in the U.S. and Canada as well as inspiring the Roots on the Rails rolling music fests. Although he is musically nothing like him, in spirit and in fan loyalty and adoration, Eaglesmith could well be Canada’s answer to Jimmy Buffett.

Dave Alvin (photo by Todd Wolfson)

Grammy Award winning singer-songwriter Dave Alvin is widely considered to be one of the pivotal founders of the current Americana music scene. Since forming the highly influential roots rock/R&B band The Blasters with his brother Phil in 1979, Dave Alvin has mixed his varied musical and literary influences into his own unique version of traditional American music. Combining elements of blues, folk, R&B, rockabilly, Bakersfield country and garage rock with lyrical inspiration from local writers and poets like Raymond Chandler, Gerald Locklin and Charles Bukowski.

A prolific number of releases through the 1990s charted several different evolutions in Alvin’s music. In 2000, he recorded a collection of traditional folk and blues classics, Public Domain: Songs from the Wild Land, which earned him a Grammy award for Best Contemporary Folk Album. In 2004, Alvin released Ashgrove, a low-key but hard-edged set of blues and rock. West of the West followed it in 2006.

Los Straitjackets have been making their brand of raucous rock since 1994 and have become known as one of the most dynamic and skillful instrumental bands on the planet. Their renowned live show is filled with mind-bending guitar theatrics; group choreography and fuzzed-out experiments in high fidelity rock and roll showmanship.

Using the music of The Ventures, The Shadows, Link Wray and Dick Dale as a jumping off point the band has taken their unique, high-energy brand of original rock & roll around the world. Clad in their trademark Lucha Libre Mexican wrestling masks, the “Jackets” have delivered their trademark guitar licks to 10 albums, thousands of concerts and dozens of films and TV shows.

Club Helsinki Hudson
405 Columbia Street
Hudson, N.Y.


”]Singer-songwriter Bobby Sweet will celebrate the release of his latest recording, Cowboys and Poets, with a concert on Saturday, June 18, at the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield, Mass. Sweet’s new folk/Americana style has drawn comparisons to John Prine, Jackson Browne, Guy Clark, and “a countrified Bruce Springsteen.” An engaging storyteller and dynamic performer, he is a sixth-generation musician who began his performing career in his father’s band at age 7.





Sweet, who was profiled by writer Amanda Gordon in Berkshire Living magazine in 2007, has shared the bill with many country and folk artists, including Vince Gill, Bill Staines, Bill Morrissey, Martin Sexton, Arlo Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and Jonathan Edwards.

Sweet was selected as a Kerrville New Folk Finalist in 2011. His songs have received honorable mentions from the New York Songwriter’s Circle Songwriting Contest, the UK Songwriting Contest, the Billboard Songwriting Contest, and the Mountain Stage NewSong Contest. He has also written songs that have aired on hit television series such as Touched By an Angel, CSI, Walker Texas Ranger, Soul Food, and Judging Amy.

As a much-sought-after lead guitarist, he has played shows opening for George Jones, Asleep at the Wheel, Willie Nelson, the Bellamy Brothers, and Waylon Jennings. In 2008-2009, he toured with Arlo Guthrie’s Lost World Tour, and has just returned home from Guthrie’s 2010-2011 Journey On Tour. His instrumental and vocal work have been featured on recordings by Arlo Guthrie, Sarah Lee Guthrie, Johnny Irion, and a host of other independent album projects.

Sweet will be performing at the Colonial with his BSweet Band, featuring Pete Adams (pedal steel guitar), Rick Leab (drums), Bruce Mandel (bass), and Abe Guthrie (keyboards). The show begins at 8; doors open at 7:30. Tickets are available at the Colonial box office. For advance tickets call 413. 997.4444 or visit the Colonial Theatre.

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