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A Milestone in Dance

LAWRENCE BUDMEN's second report
from The Berkshires


When modern dance pioneer Ted Shawn bought a hilltop farm in Becket, Massachusetts, USA, the roots of America's first festival of dance were planted. Initially used as rehearsal space for the famous Denishawn Company that Shawn ran with his wife, the legendary Ruth St Dennis (and later for Shawn's all male dance troupe), the rural retreat became Jacob's Pillow, a spectacular annual kaleidoscope of international dance. The Ted Shawn Theater, opened in 1942, became the first auditorium in the United States specially designed for dance. (The theater's architect Joseph Franz, a Berkshire local, also designed the Koussevitzky Music Shed at Tanglewood.) Directed by Shawn until his death in 1972, the festival has featured such legends as Merce Cunningham, Alvin Ailey, Twyla Tharp, Paul Taylor, Martha Graham, Dame Margot Fonteyn and Mikhail Baryshnikov. Such illustrious international companies as Ballet Rambert, Les Grand Ballet Canadiens and the Dance Theater of Harlem made their first US appearances at Jacob's Pillow. The 2007 festival marks the event's 75th anniversary season, a milestone in the history of dance in America.

On 7 August 2007 the Mark Morris Dance Group opened a five day engagement at the Ted Shawn Theater on the bucolic campus. (Morris made his first appearance at the festival in 1982.) One of the great choreographic artists of our time, Morris presented a retrospective of his work from the late 1980s (when his company was in residence at the Theatre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels) to his most recent dance pieces. Unlike many dance companies that appear at this event, Morris performs to live music. This marked a wonderful collaboration between the Morris Company and Fellows from the Tanglewood Music Center.

Mark Morris Dance Group: Amber Darragh and David Leventhal in 'Italian Concerto'. Photo © Stephanie Berger
Mark Morris Dance Group: Amber Darragh and David Leventhal in 'Italian Concerto'. Photo © Stephanie Berger

Italian Concerto, the opening work on the program, was not only one of the choreographer's most recent creations (2007) but one of his best. With pianist Yauheniya Yesmanovich playing superbly articulated, idiomatic Bach, Morris' rapid fire choreographic invention was wonderfully witty. Amber Darragh and Joe Bowie were the very embodiment of Morris' great choreography. The ensemble finale was a whirlwind as inspired as Bach's music. (Paul Palazzo's lighting was delicately elegant.) As in his settings of Handel and Purcell, Baroque music brings out the best in Morris. Italian Concerto is a masterpiece.

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Copyright © 4 September 2007 Lawrence Budmen, Miami Beach, USA


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