AISLE SAY Berkshires


Mixed programme
Founder: Nancy Laurie
Interim Artistic Director: Alexandra Damiani

Jacob’s Pillow/Ted Shawn Theatre
until July 7

Reviewed by Joel Greenberg


Another season at Jacob’s Pillow (its 81st!) is an adventure: you know there are surprises in store, and the anticipation is almost as much fun as the surprises themselves. And what a surprise last night was!


The Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet erupted on the stage of the Ted Shawn Theatre in a display of physical dexterity (and that word doesn’t do the ensemble the justice they deserve) that was jaw-dropping. The audience screamed its approval after each of the three dances that comprised the programme, and the energy of the artists transported all of us as we made our way across the campus to the parking lot. I’ve seen many companies at the Pillow that mesmerized audiences, but this company infused hundreds of people of all ages with a joy that translated into laughter and smiles wherever you looked. Ella Baff, the Executive and Artistic Director of the festival, who welcomes audiences at the start of almost all performances with a brief curtain speech, was unaccustomedly lost for words as she tried to sum up the unique nature of Cedar Lake. In hindsight, it seems that she knew the power of the first-time experience seeing this young and remarkable company. Her clarion cry, “Let’s dance!” took on new meaning.


“Grace Engine”, the first dance (choreographed by Cristal Pite and lit by Jim French), presents a noir-ish world wherein bodies intersect, occasionally collide and, briefly, embrace. The propulsive movement tricks the eye into imagining the human form as one composed of plasticene, so pliable and available are its varied shapes. In a world of harsh fluorescent lighting and deep shadows, men and women are released from gender and adopt positions and attitudes that are merely human. The three pas de deux emerge from the ensemble with the same characteristic lack of definition that marks Pite’s understanding of relationships.


“Tuplet”, choreographed by Alexander Ekman, a dance created for six dancers, begins with a meta-theatrical introduction that could as easily have been a technical delay. Its value in the dance is questionable and its impact on the work itself unhelpful. But once the lights dimmed and the stage was awakened to the pulse of percussive rhythms, the preceding set-up was quickly out of mind.


Ekman’s cheeky commentary, in collaboration with his dancers, exploits the self and focuses on identity without getting entangled in philosophical analysis. The directness of the dancers’ repeated ‘signatures’ reinforces the ephemeral nature of art itself. And that the dance moves from isolation to community only enhances the joy of a dancer’s spirit.


Jo Stromgren, who has also lit the piece with Jim French, choreographs “Necessity, Again”, the final piece of the programme. Stromgren celebrates the pure joy and freedom of dance by contrasting the spoken text of Jacques Derrida with music sung by Charles Aznavour.  While Derrida drones on about his philosophy, the dancers are locked in an internal world, and when Aznavour’s voice takes over, the freedom experienced unlocks body and soul in an outpouring of abandoned joy. And the back-and-forth of the two builds until, at last, bodies are hurled through space, swung and twirled in the most weightless fashion imaginable, and all aspects of Derrida’s text, expressed in mountains of paper, are flung to the winds, where they are subsumed by the spirit of dance. The standing ovation that followed was neither prompted nor obligatory – and the audiences at Jacob’s Pillow, never hard-nosed about showing their appreciation, had been waiting all night to acknowledge the company’s many gifts. “Necessity, Again” earned the cheers it, and all that had preceded it, rightly deserved.


And here we are barely into the season of 2013!


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