Text and photos by Seth Rogovoy
(BECKET, Mass., June 19, 2011) – The Jacob’s Pillow season opening gala is always a high point of the season, both for the programming, which serves as a kind of sampler for the work that goes on at the Pillow, including the educational component as well as a sprinkling of performers who will return throughout the course of the summer, as well as for the after-show dinner and party, which as is to be expected from the nation’s premier dance festival, includes the best music and dancing you’ll find at any such event in the Berkshires.
Such was the case this past Saturday, June 18, 2011, when the weather cooperated just one night after torrential downpours featuring tornado-like winds and Biblical hailstorms, instead offering a warm sunny afternoon fading into a cool evening.
But the real show was onstage in the Ted Shawn Theatre. where a parade of performers paid tribute to the diversity and eclecticism that is at the root of the Pillow’s core mission, and undoubtedly dear to the heart and intellect of executive and artistic director Ella Baff, who served as master (mistress?) of ceremonies.
Highlights of the evening program included a rare, intense solo piano performance by composer Philip Glass of his work, Dreaming Awake, which he wrote in 2006 and which he noted choreographer Molissa Fenley appropriated for a dance work two years later. While this was one of Glass’s more lush, late-period Romantic works – sort of Schubert filtered through contemporary minimalism – it was trademark Glass, but given a unique, human touch by the composer himself.
Immediately following Glass’s performance, the Ballet du Grand Theatre de Geneve performed Closer, a duet created by the hottest choreographer (and most envied baby daddy) in the world at the moment – Benjamin Millepied, aka Mr. Natalie Portman – to Glass’s Mad Rush. Having just heard Glass perform his own, similar work, the dance gained added resonance, as the male-female coupling by Sarawanee Tanatanit and Jocelyn-Nathanael Marie couldn’t help but remind viewers of some of the moves featured in the hit movie, Black Swan, that Millepied choreographed and Portman danced.
David Neumann’s solo Tough the Tough (redux) relied mostly on a spoken-word score written by Will Eno and spoken by DJ Mendel, an innovation that seems to be exploding across the contemporary dance world. Keigwin + Company’s curtain closer, Runaway, for eleven dancers, was a vibrant, multimedia techno phantasmagoria that explored aspects of fashion and pop culture, with the female dancers sporting elaborate wigs and fluorescent dressed in contrast with the men’s new wavish black and white suits and shirts. There was more than a bit of Lady Gaga to the spectacle, which was up-to-the-minute and will undoubtedly have many audience members returning to the theater later this work when the ensemble performs this again plus three other very different pieces in the Doris Duke Theatre.
The program also featured a world premiere choreographed by Stanton Welch and placed on the fellows of the School at Jacob’s Pillow in a whopping five days’ time. Mark Morris Dance Group, which will be in the Berkshires several times this summer – first at Tanglewood and again at Jacob’s Pillow – was represented by Silhouettes, a jaunty duet for two men, one of whom wore a pajama top and the other a pajama bottom, dancing to old-time folk and ragtime music, light and comical.
The evening’s program also included a tribute to choreographer Crystal Pite, who was presented the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award by Ella Baff, and who noted that the award, which comes with an anonymously donated $25,000 cash prize, “comes at a fragile and vertiginous time in my work” – to say nothing of an auspicious time in her life, as her infant baby could be heard calling out for her mom from the audience, and was in attendance at the post-program reception under a tent on the Great Lawn.
The dinner served by Mezze Catering under the direction of Nancy Thomas was fabulous, and Bev Rohlehr and the Colbys provided a terrific soundtrack that kept partygoers on the dance floor into the wee hours.
Please visit our complete photo gallery of the event here on our Facebook page.