If a tree could take a bow, it would most likely happen at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival. Perhaps it did. Read on.
My summer travels began and ended at Jacob’s Pillow, the best place I know to dance binge while enjoying the great outdoors. The day began with the natural high I get from seeing Pillow dance banners lining Route 20. This thrills me every time. Why don’t we do this more?
Trisha Brown Dance Company celebrated its 40th anniversary with a program spanning several decades, from the freshly minted les Yeux et l’ame to the 1973 witty classic Spanish Dance. It was Brown’s 1993 Set and Reset, with sets and costumes by Robert Rauschenberg and music by Laurie Anderson, that reminded me how deeply Brown’s vocabulary is engrained in my postmodern generation. Forming and un-forming, taking shape and letting it dissipate, sculpting space with a profound nuance, these are the characteristics of Brown’s wonderfully idiosyncratic style, all of which were in full evidence in this set of works. Yet, embedded in this sea of flow is a compelling palette of exquisite detail. It’s truly extraordinary that such richly textured movement can have such a fleeting feel. Shape sans permanence, that’s Brown’s gift to us.
What a set of dreamy movers in the pairing of David Neumann and Jodi Melnick , who teamed up at the suggestion of Pillow artistic and executive director Ella Baff. (Neumann was last seen in Houston dancing the bittersweet A Day of It , his collaboration with Jane Weiner.) I could watch these two move all day long, they’re that interesting. Neumann possesses a slippery quality, looking as if a prat fall might occur at any minute, while Melnick’s calculated delicacy evokes a quiet authority. Her breathtakingly subtle Fanfare combined an intricate gestural language with Burt Barr’s visuals of an electric metal fan.
Neumann plays mankind, or “Steve,” with a droll wit in Tough the Tough (Redux), which featured an oddly upbeat existentialist text by Will Eno. The magnificent bowing tree comes in during Melnick and Neumann’s gorgeous duet July, where their understated grace seemed to stand in perfect balance to the nobility of the pine tree on full splendid view through the open back doors of the Doris Duke Theater. In an “only at the Pillow” move, Melnick and Neumann motioned to the tree at the end.
In between performances, I hopped on a Pillow Talk “Dancing Online” panel moderated by Scholar Maura Keefe, sharing the stage with Virtual Pillow project manager Lisa Niedermeyer, and Huffington Post writers Debra Levine and Jennifer Edwards . The consensus is that people are watching and reading dance online, but we need more evidence of it to make a stronger case that we have a solid audience. So hit those share buttons people, but don’t forget to actually read the piece first. Be less passive, and comment, should you feel the need. Writers alone can’t up the value of web based dance writing, or dance writing in general. We need engaged readers, and lots of them.
Catching up on most of what I missed in the archives took up the in between hours. I caught Jonah Bokaer, Zoe|Juniper, and Big Dance Theater, all of whom have Houston connections in the upcoming season. Zoe | Juniper will be at DiverseWorks on Jan. 19-21, Bokaer will be an artist-in-residence at University of Houston Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts and Big Dance Theater’s Paul Lazar directs Suzanne Bocanegra in When a Priest Marries a Witch on Nov. 1, also at the Mitchell Center.
No Pillow experience is complete without a visit to the Inside/Out stage. Nestled between a cherubic four-year old and my brother, each of us enthralled by the mountain view setting and earnest performances from the Jazz /Musical Theater students from all over the globe, it occurred to me that dance is something you can learn to love at any age. What better place to do it than the Pillow?
Reprinted from Dance Source Houston.
Trisha Brown Dance Company at Jacob’s Pillow