Borrowed Light is a return engagement of the work first produced at Jacob’s Pillow in 2006. The 70-minute dance inspired by the history and the music of the Shakers is a collaboration presented by the Tero Saarinen Company and The Boston Camerata. The concept is inspired. The execution is extraordinary.
Saarinen, who joins his seven dancers, has conceived a dance and music piece that evokes the Shaker ethos without aiming to replicate or document that unique history. In “Borrowed Light” men dance with women and emotions are permitted full expression. But taken from the historical record that Saarinen was drawn to, the dance emanates from the Shaker practice of movement through prayer. Addressing a godly power permitted physical excess – not adornment and certainly not vanity. But to embrace the divine, worshippers were freed to use outward physical expression.
The ensemble is mesmerizing and the dance vocabulary defies comparison to any other choreographer you might consider. It is rare, indeed, to see work that stands fully on its own and cannot be compared to anything or anyone else. This makes the evening a fitting tribute to Jacob’s Pillow’s 80th anniversary. But the accolades extend beyond dance.
The Boston Camerata, under music director Anne Azema, perform a series of Shaker songs as the score for the dance. The eight singers are onstage throughout, often working with the dancers, and their plainsong fills the Ted Shawn Theatre with warmth, spirit and rich harmonies. As I write this, I acknowledge that this description fails to do justice to the role they play – let me stress that the musical ensemble does not stand at the side in shadow while the dancers seize the spotlight. This is a true collaboration, and in the very finest way the audience loses sight of who is singing and who is dancing. The whole evolves into an experience as deeply religious as it might have been for the Shakers, themselves.
The Ted Shawn Theatre is an ordained venue for this folk-based (not to be read as folk dance, in any traditional way) creation. And the venue itself, hardly state-of-the-art in technical and design terms, lends itself to the superior design elements that the Saarinen Company has brought to their work. The lighting design (Mikki Kunttu) reaches beyond the stage as it draws us closer to the event. Boundaries are crossed and the moment of that transition cannot be identified, so organic is the design. Erika Turunen has designed costumes for the dancers that are breathtaking in their beauty and fluidity and wholly unspecific. As much as we know that the Shakers are Saarinen’s inspiration, Turunen reminds we that we inhabit a world without limitations. (The singers are less carefully attired.)
Ella Baff, the Pillow’s Executive and Artistic Director, along with her entire creative and administrative team, continue to enlist the finest artists for the summer season. Inviting “Borrowed Light” to return is a generous gift to the Pillow audience, both those who are seeing Saarinen.Canerata for the first time and to those who have brought their fondest memories of the 2006 premiere performance.
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