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By Elyse Sommer
The problem with covering the cornucopia of arts and entertainment events in the Berkshires single-handed is that it's virtually impossible to fit everything in. Mind you, it's a wonderful problem, but since my primary focus is on plays, this, my first Jacob's Pillow feature, is of the season's penultimate main stage presentation of the Pacific Northwest Ballet, which has already closed as I write this to make way for the final program by the popular Mark Morris Dance Group.
The Pacific Northwest dancers' first visit to Beckett was understandably greeted with enormous enthusiasm and surely won't be their last. The Chester Theater off the same road but a bit past the Pillow based its season on up the theme of "Unexpected Alliances." The Pacfic Northwest program at the Ted Shawn Theater season is also a variation of that theme.
The alliances concept came into play after a stunning opening study in red and black (Paul Gibson's The Piano Dance performed live by the company's regular pianist Dianne Chilgren) which showcased four pairs of the company's dancers (Noelani Pantastico & Lucien Postlewaite, Kaori Nakamura & Kiyon Gaines, Louise Nadeau & Christophe Maraval, Chalnessa Eames & Josh Spell) followed by a shorter piece (Sonia Dawkins' Ripple Mechanics danced to the somewhat odd accompaniment of Nina Simone singing "Ne Me Quitte Pas"). The next piece, Duo Concertant, marked the group's still new artistic director Peter Boal's long association (as a dancer) with the New York City Ballet.
Choreographed by Balanchine to Igor Stranvinsky's "Duo Concertant for violin and piano", this piece took a new look at the alliance between dancers and instrumentalists. Instead of recorded music or live musicians either backstage or unobtrusively positioned at the side of the stage, Balanchine wanted the musicians right on stage and actually have the two dancers spend a good deal of time standing at the piano and listening. (As Balanchine explained this unusual equal emphasis on the dance/music alliance" that's the point of all dancing: You must first listen to the music to really hear, and then you will understand it and appreciate it. You see the music in the steps, but first you must hear the music." The "alliance" was beautifully executed by Louise Nadeau and Noelani Pantastico and violinist Marjorie Kransberg-Talvi and pianist Dianne Chilgren.
The concluding piece, Val Canipalori's Lambarena , and the program's piece de resistance spotlighted yet another type of alliance: The music of Bach alternating with traditional African music. Truly an unexpected alliance but as choreographed and performed by the full cast, an alliance made in dance heaven. A terrific finale to a memorable, eye-popping program.
For the full season's calendar and news of its upcoming 75th season, visit the Jacob's Pillow