When James Kudelka voyages into narrative territory (think big ballets like The Contract and Cinderella), he frequently stumbles, but he rarely falters when setting out on a more modest course. The Montreal-based contemporary ensemble founded by Laurence Lemieux and Bill Coleman brought 17 Kudelka duets to Jacob’s Pillow. The prospect of watching a slew of male-female encounters tends to make my eyes glaze over, but this choreographer is eloquent on the subject of intimacy.
Lemieux’s partner in the premiere of See #1 is violinist Mark Ferris. He stands center stage, playing Heinrich Ignatz Franz von Biber’s Passacaglia, and while neither player acknowledges the other, Ferris’s presence and the intriguingly cranky 18th-century music he’s playing both anchor and drive Lemieux’s dancing. Often she seems to be searching for something, bending forward to peer beyond the audience. Lemieux is a beautifully fluid, expansive performer, whether she’s softly folding to the floor or springing around Ferris, feet flexed, as if recollecting a folk dance. Soudain, L’Hiver Dernier (“Suddenly, Last Winter”) is extremely moving. Ryan Boorne and Andrew Giday could be as down-and-out or in need of salvation as the indigent man whose creaky voice composer Gavin Bryars looped over subtly heaving chords to create his famously heart-penetrating Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet. Although the two powerful dancers hold each other up, sometimes in extraordinary ways, the most complicated lifts come across as cries and responses.
Rather than striving for contrast between sections of Fifteen Heterosexual Duets, Kudelka concentrates on small differences and unifying similarities. Each new pair rushes onto the stage, overlapping the previous couple’s ending, so nothing halts the passionate flow of Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata. In the first duet, Boorne suddenly turns slightly and falls backward, catching his weight on one hand, while Lemieux rises effortlessly from below him to end astride the bridge of his body. When, 10 duets later, Kate Alton and Sean Marye revisit this maneuver, it’s no longer an effortless spiral; she clambers into position. Lemieux gently places her hands on either side of Marye’s head as he kneels; in the fifth duet, Giday grasps Alton the same way. And many couples repeat a move in which the woman leans back against her partner, and he “flies” her forward by shoving his knee between her legs.
Each duet stands out in some way. Sasha Ivanochko slaps Peter Trosztmer lightly during their tempestuous dance. Kate Holden runs after Luke Garwood, pushing him into turning leaps. Tender, thoughtful, or carried away, the dancers (including Anik Bissonnette and Mario Radocovsky) make the work glow. Holden has an especially radiant attentiveness to her partner.
It was a fine idea on the part of Coleman and Lemieux to honor the Pillow’s 75th anniversary by reviving several excerpts from Ted Shawn’s The Dome for a cast of children rather than men, as in the original. Five girls and two boys ranging from eight to 11 years old bring an unself-conscious naïveté to these simple, sculptural pieces created by Shawn between 1933 and 1940. Ivanochko assumes Shawn’s role as leader, but mostly the kids in white leotards are on their ownwalking gravely, spinning, fitting contrapuntal patterns to the structure of Bach keyboard pieces, and lifting their palms heavenward. Often their formations build a mountain from kneeling figures to standing ones or from small children to tinier ones. A line of Shelley’s”Life, like a dome of many-colored glass, stains the white radiance of eternity”gave the dance its name, design principal, and aspirational spirit; seen in this setting, it seems as much about natural hills as about symbolic constructs.