Pillow Premieres


Francesca Harper’s multimedia Fragile Stone Theory, which got a shaky world premiere at Jacob’s Pillow June 20, is a bald audition for commodification as a singing, dancing video diva. How else to explain the Destiny’s Child snake-charming arms in front of a color-saturated urbanscape? The cheap confession that her first “live stage performance” was putting her leg out a window and threatening to jump? Straitjacketed thrashing? Tantalizingly languorous “I used to be a ballerina” arabesques? She’s ready for E!, screaming at a father figure (the back of Julius Hollingsworth’s dreadlocked head) whose sins seem to have consisted of divorcing Mom and chain-smoking. On tape, Harper portrays a prim shrink defining ambition and self-image while her real-life aunt, writer Margo Jefferson, tries to wriggle out of clichés—and fails. Vipal Monga and Dereck Jannierre’s videos of dancers Tai Jimenez and Theresa Howard mix psychedelic color washes and inspired camera angles, but there’s nothing attractive about the smugness of Harper’s pretty face.

The honorable lack of ornament in Lucinda Childs’s Largo and Chacony illustrates the old awareness that every time you take a step you fall and catch yourself. Childs’s formalism has always had its balletic aspects; danced at Jacob’s Pillow by Mikhail Baryshnikov’s White Oak Project (June), Largo’s deeply rooted fourth position is the foundation for a soft narrative of indecision, where pensive transfers of weight and sudden spins convey an adult acceptance of human limits. Under beautifully unshadowed illumination by Les Dickert, White Oak’s ensemble work in Chacony alternates relaxation and abandon. On opening night, the dancers seemed unsure where to focus their attention as they reconfigured their arrangements. Clearer was the side-by-side matching of two couples: The women were lifted almost horizontally and swung their legs open like loosely held scissors.

On the same White Oak program, the formalism of Erick Hawkins’s Early Floating references gender circa 1961. The guys are beach bullies, the soles of their feet pushing against the floor; Emily Coates is a porcelain shepherdess whose arms buoy her into the ether. (Even when she’s unsteady it looks planned, as if the air were too thin to hold her.) Dancing to Lucia Dlugoszewski’s inside-piano zithering, the dancers seem to exchange atoms under a spiny mobile. Ultimately Baryshnikov replaces tantrummy hops and balled fists with arm gestures that evoke his learning, tentatively, to wind a skein of silk thread. Yin wins.

But not even Baryshnikov, a floor carpeted with layers of bubble wrap, and a luxe production budget could rescue Sarah Michelson’s execrable The Experts. Michelson may have thought posing characters in random costumes (for instance, a slogan-covered black motorcycle jacket embellished with red butterfly wings worn with a sparkly black eye patch) was wry and Dada-esque. She was wrong. The Experts is an assemblage of pointless gestures, agitated hand- and head-shaking, and zoned-out walks from one side of the stage to the other. Questioning authority is one thing. When it comes to choreography, expertise does matter. —Debra Cash

The Patricia Kenny Dance Collection, in its second season (Dicapo Opera Theater), revels in everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink dancing, filling the stage with multiple turns, gymnastics, and extended line. The sleek ensemble cast has a ball with Kenny’s hyperbolic, flirtatious vocabulary. Even their repose is inflected by panache. In five dances, Kenny erodes the boundaries between modern dance, jazz, and Broadway for theatrical images that wow her audience. Kenny spent seven years in the Parsons Dance Company, and her work shares that group’s glass-half-full athleticism. Only In the Meadow strays into somber territory, with audience favorite Sean Mueller portraying a troubled ghost.

Guest choreographers Katherine L. Hooper and Katarzyna Skarpetowska use similarly propulsive material. Hooper’s Little Black Dress features some of the most fluid phrasing of the evening. Dancer Hiromi Naruse’s performance is particularly accomplished and breezy. Giovanni Sollima’s score drives Skarpetowska’s Fallen to a Rite of Spring-like urgency. —Chris Dohse

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