29 August 2011

Jacob's Pillow

I had to cut a trip to the Berkshires short this weekend due to the hurricane (thanks Irene). Luckily, I managed to soak in a bit of the calm and beauty that is this section of Western Massachusetts before having to hoof it back to New York before the impending disaster (it ended up never really getting that bad in the city but better safe than sorry).

I met up with a friend from Cambridge, and we stayed in the town of Lenox where everything is charming from the 19th century library to the free doggie bag despensers. 

Although many things were planned for the trip, the most important was attending Jacob’s Pillow to see the Mark Morris Dance Group (MMDG) perform, which we happily did on Friday evening.

As some of you may know, I simply adore Mark Morris; I think he’s an absolute genius. This year marks the 30th anniversary of his company and so I timed my visit to the Berkshires to coincide with their performance at Jacob’s Pillow, the summer dance festival that draws some of the best dancers and companies from around the globe.

In 1930, famed modern dance pioneer Ted Shawn purchased a farm in Becket, Massachusetts. Named Jacob’s Pillow by its original owners—a large boulder on the grounds resembling a pillow and a ladder-shaped road up to the farm reminded them of the biblical story of Jacob—Shawn planned to turn it into a retreat for his new all male dance company. In the summer of 1933, the company began to give public performances on the grounds and thus the seeds for the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival were planted. 

There is something almost magical about Jacob’s Pillow. Walking around the grounds with its quaint wooden barns and houses that serve as performance spaces, practice studios, and offices, it's hard to imagine a more beautiful or relaxing place to watch dance. Before the performance, we dined at the outdoor Pillow Café and enjoyed our wine while watching the sun set over the trees.

The MMDG performed four pieces that symbolized the company’s history: Resurrection, which was performed to Richard Rodgers' "Slaughter on 10th Avenue" and had the dancers in wonderful star and harlequin pajamas; Ten Suggestions, a solo originally danced by Morris himself and which was ably handled by Amber Star Merkens this time round; Dancing Honeymoon, set to a collection of popular songs from the 1920s and 30s and which involved, among other things, the tossing of folding chairs (no worry, none were dropped); and V, set to the music of Robert Schumann and probably one of the most moving pieces of dance I’ve ever seen (this was my third or fourth time seeing it performed and it never gets old). There are so many things to love about this company—the variety of the dancers (my favourite is Lauren Grant who is short like me and a complete powerhouse), the way Morris weaves humour into the pieces, the perfect melding of music with dance that is so uniquely Morris. 

The biggest disappointment of having to leave early was missing a visit to the Mount, the home of Edith Wharton in Lenox. The restored residence of the great author with its magnificent gardens is a perfect place to spend a day. I hadn’t been in a few years and was looking forward to seeing it again. I guess I will just have to return another time.

Photos by Michele.

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