A Haven for American Dance: #JacobsPillow

On Friday, my friend and I joined a handful of dance junkies for the NYC preview screening of Never Stand Still.  Directed by Ron Honsa (written and produced by Ron Honsa and Nan Penman, cinematography by Jimmy O’Donnell and Etienne Sauret, edited by Charles Yurick &
narrated by Bill T. Jones), this film highlighted the scope of works presented at Ted Shawn’s refuge for dance tucked away in the Berkshires.

I first visited the Pillow as a student at Boston Conservatory in 2003.  I was 18 and still enmeshed in my ballet ways.  We saw several different artists perform that glorious summer day (flamenco diva Maria Pages among them), but what horrified and excited me was a solo piece (I cannot remember the artist’s name).  A fifty-something woman emerged from within the audience, wearing a men’s suit jacket and hairnet covering her face.  The hairnet turned her wrinkly face grotesque and the suit jacket allowed her to play visual tricks as she contorted her body every which way.  I don’t recall that there was music, which I didn’t understand at all.  Toward the end, the jacket fell to the floor and her sagging breasts stared at us.  She lifted her gaze upward and corn kernels fell from the ceiling, raining down on her.  I had no idea what it meant and didn’t have the resources to help myself try to interpret much of anything from it.  Looking back, that was a moment that jarred me into the glorious state of not needing to know or understand completely.  I didn’t have permission to embrace that concept fully then, but it started the process.

The film captured the glory of the Pillow from the blue sky covering the outdoor stages to the iconography of dance legends such as Ted Shawn, Alvin Ailey, Paul Taylor, and Suzanne Farrell.  The documentary was less about Ted Shawn and more about the work at the Pillow.  Choreographers and dancers such as Gideon Obarzanek and Rasta Thomas recounted their rite of passage moments performing there and old video footage took us back in time to how it all began.  Joanna Haigood also shared her experiences staging a dramatic work utilizing multiple sites on the Pillow’s campus (and the Pillow’s history as part of the Underground Railroad) which reminded me of this exploration I conducted in learning about site-specific works.  Just over an hour, Never Stand Still is a much needed record of the Pillow’s dynamic history and contribution to modern dance.

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