Jacob’s Pillow: Ballet BC and Tere O’Connor Dance
Jacob’s Pillow, founded in 1930 in Becket, MA, is a 220-acre center for all-things-dance that is one of the primary magnets for visitors to the Berkshires. From 50 top professional companies this year to a couple hundred free events (performances, lectures, multi-media, and more), it is a dance world of its own. A visit is both exhilarating and comfortable, even in an unprecedented heat wave. Although only ceiling fans keep the scorch away in the main theater, visitors are treated to free chilled water and handy hand fans.
Rustic buildings spread out on the grounds and wherever you are, restrooms and eateries are nearby. There is a pub, kiosks, and stores to visit as you wander among crowds of dance lovers and dancers, assisted every few feet by young interns and senior volunteers.
I leave time to stop by a couple of amazing photographic exhibitions. “Shooting Stars” includes behind-the-scenes photos by professional dancers themselves; “Dancers Among Us” features amazing large color shots by Jordan Matter of dancers doing magnificent movements in the midst of everyday settings, like a subway stop and street corner. I visit the archives and watch films of past performances, buy an ice cream sandwich for $2.00, and catch part of a lovely amateur performance on the Inside Out stage, perched over a Berkshires mountain view to die for.
A short pre-performance lecture by one of Jacob’s Pillow’s resident scholars, Maura Keefe, on a deck over-looking the gorgeous landscape, prepares us for the performance of the Canadian company Ballet BC, held at the Ted Shawn Theatre, named for the founder of Jacob’s Pillow. Ballet BC, from Vancouver, is a British Columbian company of 18 dancers which is now led by artistic director Emily Molnar. On the program are USA premieres by three different choreographers.
The first piece A.U.R.A. (Anarchist Unit Related to Art) by Jacopo Godani is danced to the eerie, non-melodic music of 48nord. In androgynous costuming, the movements stem from exaggerated classic ballet lines, stretched into unbalanced distortion. The lighting morphs from dim and mysterious to aggressive stripes of neon descending from the ceiling, as the company creatively combines and disentangles. Here gender is erased – as it is impossible to distinguish among the slender, wiry bodies covered by the same stretchy, spider-webbed costuming.
Emily Molnar choreographed Aniel, commissioning a score from John Zorn based on Klezmer music. Dressed bright contrasting colors, the men wear ties and the women rather matronly skirts. The music is a tuneful and joyous background to playful flirtatious connections and upbeat routines.
The final piece is Petite Ceremonie, choreographed by Medhi Walerski to varied selections from Mozart, Vivaldi, Rodgers & Hart, and others. The women are in black dresses and the men in black suits. They produce a synchronized unity, with rhythmic stepping, adhering to a strictly heterosexual coupling. It is a humorous piece, including a speech done by a juggler about the difference between men and women’s brains – an approach that while cute was not very intellectually interesting.
While Ballet BC is doing varied and entertaining modern dance, it is neither cutting edge nor challenging. Its greatest charm lies in the high standards of dance demanded of the company’s members and the willingness of the artistic director to incorporate wit. They pride themselves on their contemporary European aesthetic, including the fact that the dancers wear socks in all their performances, something Molnar believes “gives a clean line to the leg,” a bridge between bare feet and en pointe.
TERE O’CONNOR DANCE
The following afternoon, I attend the matinee performance of Tere O’Connor’s Cover Boy, a piece addressing the closeted gay experience. At the entrance to the theatre is a warning I’ve never seen before at a dance show: “This performance has adult content.” And indeed it does. Four men use their bodies, emotions, and voices to explore violent and ubiquitous desire.
Under a roof which makes up the set, created by the design team Aptum Architecture, four men produce what might be called an anti-dance. There are only fleeting moments of recognizable dance steps in between bouts of wild groping, group humping, and the dancers throwing themselves on the ground with stunning abandon.
One group sexual scene in which the object of the attentions of others bursts into painful cries is a wrench to all who are watching. And watching is a theme throughout, for not only are we, the audience, put into the position of voyeurs, so too the dancers watch each other as the embracing configurations mutate and change.
The voices of the four are a crucial element – for they mumble and moan and cry and sing. They call out and they harmonize, they grunt and they gasp. This heightens the viewer’s sense that we are not only watching their pain and their intimacy, but listening in as well. The piece is 62 fraught minutes, without an intermission, and when the four take their bows, they do so in character, disturbed and drained.
Sue Katz, an author, journalist, blogger and rebel, used to be most proud of her martial arts career and her world travel, but now it’s all about her edgy blog Consenting Adult. Sue is a regular contributor to Open Media Boston.