Mikhail Baryshnikov and White Oak Dance Project at Jacob’s Pillow, June 19, 2002
June 19, 2002 performance reviewed by Connell McGrath
The 70th season of Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival opened with a performance by Mikhail Baryshnikov’s White Oak Dance Project that, in a mere ten seconds, displayed the high artistry of the evening’s star. 2014 Jacob’s Pillow schedule, Contact info. and links
The first piece was Largo (2001), by Lucinda Childs to Arcangelo Corellis’ Concerto Grossi Op. 6, danced solo by Baryshnikov. I saw instantly his genius and his mastery over his medium, and understood why he is so famous and revered. Largo is soft and lovely, with graceful balletic movements, and it couldnt have lasted longer than three minutes. It was a jewel of a piece, unassuming, simple, and profound.
White Oak demonstrated its range and eclecticism tonight in their subsequent pieces. Early Floating was second on the bill, an Erick Hawkins piece from 1961 to the music Five Curtains of Timbre by Lucia Dlugoszewski. The music was cacaphonous and the dance seemed primarily about structure and form, and how that can relate – or not – to intimacy. The forms of the piece hold up well after forty years, and they are peppered with small, intimate touches between the dancers. Emily Coates was outstanding in this piece.
Early Floating is a heady yet personal piece. It was at times intriguing, then hard to pay attention to. I could understand why a man in the row beside me snored softly five minutes in, though I did not feel inclined to sleep through it. This is not a criticism of the piece (or the snoring man) as much as its an indication of the complexity and challenge in the work. It may also have something to say about chronic sleep deprivation in our time.
The showcase piece of the evening was The Experts (2002), by Sarah Michelson with music by Mike Iverson, plus a video clip by Mike Taylor of a race car zooming across a track (Steve McQueen’s car from the movie Le Mans). This was a hard piece to like, but also a hard one to forget.
The Experts was commissioned by Baryshnikov. I wonder what the dancers thought when presented with this demanding, strange work. First order of business: you’ll have to dance on a stage covered with BUBBLE WRAP, so step lively (will they repace it before tomorrow’s show, or does that audience get less POP?). The company wore strange costumes with various wing motifs, and did quite a bit of wing movements, some restricted by bound hands.
My partner commented that she struggled through the beginning of it, but grew to like the characters and adjusted to the ungainly and anti-dance movements of it. The story, humor and tension of the piece eventually swept us up, and I kept wondering how if at all this piece was informed by 9/11 (which I have no doubt it was). Personally, I agonized for Miguel Anaya as he jiggled on the stage for minutes on end, and was glad to see him let loose his more traditional (and considerable) dance abilities in the subsequent piece.
In the end, the company returned to a formal, balletic Lucinda Childs piece called Chacony (2002) to various music by Benjamin Britten. This was a return to a more traditional and aesthetically beautiful dance form, and it was relaxing and easy to love. It was a gentle end to the evening, but posed a challenge to us and the Project. Overall, the evening was on the long side, and the two middle pieces were emotionally and intellectually demanding. Chacony was a fitting end as it returned to the mood of Largo, but it lulled us too much, and we couldnt fully express our appreciation for the evening after it.
What Im trying to say is that the wonderful White Oak Dance Project didnt get the standing ovation they so deserved. We had been put through an exquisite wringer by them, and failed to rise and show our love. Nonetheless, the sounds, visions, and movement of their their performance were a great and memorable beginning to the Jacob’s Pillow season.