What Price Youth?

Native heirloom performers and foreign visitors channeling the Beats lure summer crowds

Jacob's Pillow is a summer garden of dance.

People listen to talks on balconies and porches, visit exhibits in a barn, peer at classes, picnic or dine in the tent restaurant, and watch the sunset unfold beyond the dancers' heads at the free "Inside Out" events. And, of course, they see each week's performances on the proscenium stage or in the rustic, high-ceilinged studio theater.

New Danish Dance Theatre is run by Tim Rushton, a ballet Brit and ex-member of the Royal Danish Ballet, who fell in love with contemporary dance and began to choreograph in the mid 1990s. Recently he's been turned on by America's Beat poets, just as they were turned on by drugs and words and visions of unimpeded personal freedom.

Johannes Wieland's One for Paradigm
photo: Marta Fodor
Johannes Wieland's One for Paradigm

In the gripping opening of Shadowlands (2001–2002), while Allen Ginsberg's stoned voice intones a litany of all that's holy, video designer Signe Krogh projects the word holy onto the floor of the Doris Duke Studio Theater. The seen words proliferate along with the heard ones, fitting into empty spaces until they cover the floor. A barrage of recorded text (Kerouac mostly) and bits of jazz all but swamp the dancing. Sometimes the six performers drop in on the words—miming, lip-synching, signing in Danish. Otherwise, their movement formally suggests mood and attitude; it's full of stiff, slashing, pumping arm gestures, planted stances, and swinging hips (one woman marches like a model on a runway). Thrust out, draw in. Advance, recoil.

The word-movement mix in Shadowlands is a bit overwhelming. Rushton's new Graffiti is much more satisfying. Fascinating, in fact. You can tune in and out of William Burroughs's desiccated recorded voice, and Rushton's choreographic metaphor for druggy inspiration sliding out of control is a powerful one. Stina Martensson carefully paints red veins on Edhem Jesenkovic, beginning with his right arm and neck. Meanwhile, Jesenkovic begins to dance—fitting into the movements of the others just as, later, his black-and-white video image (by Arthur Steijn) briefly fits into a few white lines that partially define him in space. When Burroughs recites "Spare Ass Annie," the word centipede, projected, climbs the back wall like uglies crawling into a bad acid trip. Martensson periodically breaks off from dancing to lip-synch the words or continue painting Jesenkovic. By the time she's finished, his neck, back, and arm are entirely red; he's moving like a marionette with broken strings; and Burroughs is snarling "Falling in Love Again" in execrable German. The party, like the 1950s, is definitely over.

Paradigm followed the Danes into the Pillow's Studio Theater with a program that included four premieres and five guest performers. Although Paradigm's members—Carmen de Lavallade, Gus Solomons jr, and Dudley Williams—are well over 60, their true common ground is a mastery of nuance and detail that may have deepen with age but has little to do with gray hair. Choreographers accommodate their physical needs (forget big leaps) and investigate their power, yet often deal with subjects that suggest loss or pluckiness or legacy.

The three impressive dancers in Johannes Wieland's One—Wieland, Keith Sabado, and Solomons—may represent the same man at different ages, yet Solomons is most often apart from the other two. When they press together, Wieland and Sabado reach around him to caress each other's faces. They pull themselves along the floor, supported by his hands. Still, the youngest, Wieland, lugs each of the others upside down in turn, and swings them high onto his shoulders—the burden of both history and years ahead.

Kay Cummings's theater piece Textures raises ideas about interrupted history—of a marriage, a family, a culture. At first, the memories, spoken and acted wonderfully (by Hope Clarke, Solomons, and Williams), seem separate: work passed down by generations (Solomons); orphaned babies in a hospital, a mother who wants to move to another country (Clarke); comforting parental voices—heard from a child's bedroom—turning angry and divisive (Williams). Movements and gestures echo words. War binds these stories together when Williams reveals the source of his family's quarrel: whether or not "to leave before the soldiers came."

Martine van Hamel, lovely in Barbara Kilpatrick's pleated silk gown, begins Wendy Perron's Far, Near, Never dancing like a diva remembering her glory. Jesse Levy not only plays Bach on his cello, he acts like a solicitous lover—humming a duet with van Hamel, moving Dan de Prenger's subtly silvered black boxes into different arrangements. Van Hamel follows him emitting a scolding soprano gibberish. It's entrancing to see this ex-ballerina vocalizing on a bed of these boxes, her hands making fifth positions in the air, her singing a fragment of Swan Lake.

The marvelous de Lavallade is a spirit of opera divadom in Richard Move's intriguing, somewhat rambling Verdi for Three. She movingly lip-synchs Marian Anderson's "O Don Fatale" from Don Carlos, as Hilton Als's recorded text increasingly corrupts it. Solomons and Williams are her perpetual consorts, although they have a witty moment together. Grandeur and glory and red-rose tributes pass, but remain potent in memory.

Second companies are useful adjuncts to major dance groups. With fewer dancers and lower fees, they can go where it's impractical for larger troupes to tour, introducing a choreographer's work or a repertory to new audiences. Compañia Nacional de Danza 2 performs this service for Nacho Duato and Spain's Compañia Nacional de Danza. Like most junior ensembles, this one is made up of dancers so dewy that it's a shock, after seeing them onstage at Jacob's Pillow's Ted Shawn Theater as accomplished performers, to run into them buying Cokes at the Pillow snack bar, clearly teenagers.

The primary influences on Duato's choreography seem to be early Jirí Kylián (Duato danced with, and eventually made works for, Kylián's Nederlands Dans Theater between 1981 and 1990), and his big, weighted, curving movements, like Kylián's during those years, often bring José Limón to mind Both Arenal (created for the Dutch company in 1988) and L'Amoroso (2004), the first piece Duato made for these young dancers, mingle balletic lines with rougher, slightly more boisterous moves. Men strut with flexed feet, women hoist their skirts and splay their legs; lifted, a female can look like a peasant doll. The first dance in particular, with its hand-in-hand chains and sturdy unison passages, suggests a folk community. The women's plain dresses with full skirts, the men's shirts and trousers (costumes by Duato and Babette Van Der Verg), and Walter Nobbe's set reinforce this look. The backdrop shows a horizon guarded by low hills and flanked by two totemic, vaguely Mayan structures.

In Arenal, one woman (Annabelle Peintre) dances somberly, while the nine other performers stand, backs to us, before one of the sculptures. The powerful a cappella voice of María del Mar Bonet (recorded) accompanies all of Peintre's solo appearances, but during a duet, a trio, and a quartet, Bonet is backed by a lively ensemble (guitars, cello, mandolin, percussion, etc.). The solo dancer is not exactly a wet blanket on the brighter, gayer dancing, but a reminder to the others that life has dark moments. Of the other sections, the most charming is the trio. Staying always close together, Begoñia Frutos, Javier Rodríguez, and Javier Monzón dance its fast, intricate steps and partner changes with buoyant spirits and expert feet.

L'Amoroso also features a design by Nobbe—a sky at dusk and darker hills; the costumes are gray and black, with hints of courtly attire. In this sextet, transitions are accompanied by the sound of a rain tube, while 17th- and 18th-century music from Venice and Naples enlivens most of the dancing, occasionally engendering little flourishes. This last dance on the program brings home the fact that gender differences are a major factor in Duato's choreography. It's not that the men's steps are significantly different from those of the women, but that they often dance as a group, and so do the women. Male-female pairings are ubiquitous (the trio in Arenal is the exception). In L'Amoroso, six people execute three duets. For the central one, Ana López removes her skirt and Rubén Ventoso his jacket, and it's wonderfully tender. Duato is skilled at making a man and woman look as if they're melting together into ardent complexities. I'd love to see a piece of his that didn't emphasize pairings (how about three women and one man? Two women and four men? Individuals within a group?), but maybe that's how he sees the world.

The choreography and ideas of Tony Fabre (former CND member and Duato's assistant) seem very like Duato's in some ways. His Holberg Suite offers oddities that are interesting in themselves but not fully justified. Using Edvard Grieg's marvelous music of the same name, he plays around with ideas of period decorum and contemporary energy. For instance, at one point the women, wearing black trunks with black bands slanting around their torsos, go offstage and return wearing bouffant skirts. For a few moments, they're playful and fussy; one mimes fainting; men's arms wave at them from the wings. They drop the skirts (is that so they can perch, belly down, on the men's upraised feet?), then step back into them for more politesse, then forget about them. But the essence of the dance is simply energetic, happy frolicking with lots of those wide-legged steps and lots of duetting and a silly ending.

The dancers are adorable, and all the pieces make them look lovely and full-spirited. They aren't yet as grounded as the members of their parent company, whose fluidity, as might be expected, comes from a deeper place, but, rightly, they rouse the audience to cheers.

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