The Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival Opens
Night Gala Performance
When Savion Glover's in the house, get ready for the unexpected—which is probably a good way to begin the 2005 Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival. The lights are dimmed in the Ted Shawn Theater. Glover's jazz quintet, The Otherz, are in place, and the heavily amplified elevated platform where Glover will perform is set. The only thing missing is Glover himself who, after a few uncomfortable moments, emerges from the wings in black pants, a loose tee shirt and bright white sneakers. He apologizes good-naturedly, explaining he was outside enjoying the nearly full moon and didn't know he was up. "Did someone make an announcement or something? Just give me two minutes," he says and returns carrying his tap shoes, or as he refers to them, his instrument. He pushes off the sneakers, zips on the shoes and he's up. For the next 40 minutes this lithe, unassuming man pounds out rhythms in an extended jam session with his band, pushing them to follow using his feet, his voice, loose jangling arms, and even the bouncing knot of his trademark bundled dreads. At one point he goes into an extended riff with bass player, Andy McCloud—practically dancing a duet with the bass as McCloud rocks and tips his instrument in response to Glover's lightning fast changes of mood, tempo and tenor. Glover is in the zone and we're right there with him.
The late Greg Hines said that whenever he danced he was searching for The Zone.
"I want to get completely in touch with what I'm feeling. Once I'm in touch with what I'm feeling, I can dance to it," he says, in a recorded interview with Rose Eichenbaum, part of the Masters of Movement: Portraits of America's Great Choreographers exhibit on display in Blake's Barn. Glover fiercely pursues the same goal, but with a more intense aggression than that of his mentors. (At 13, already an established wunderkind, Glover worked with Hines and other tap greats on the film "Tap.") He works with his band like a sixth musician, challenging them—and us—to find the rhythms in his sounds. Like Glover, we don't know what's coming next, but we're caught up in the loud sweaty ride as he, eyes closed and lips parted in a slight smile, stomps, slides and tipples his way into the sweet spot.
Glover was the highlight of the opening night gala which, typical of gala performances was a taste of what's to come for the 2005 festival season. There was a piece d'occasion by Margo Sappington in which the Pillow's summer ballet students leaped their exuberant young way through John Adams' "The Chairman Dances" (excerpted from "Nixon in China"). Put together in four days, this was a valiant attempt to remind the gala audience of how integral student life is to the Pillow. The idea makes sense, but the students were sometimes overwhelmed by Sappington's razzmatazz approach and might have been better served by something simpler. Nonetheless, it was a fine effort and probably a valuable addition to their learning experience. Ben Munisteri Dance Projects was also featured with "Turbine Mines," a 2004 work set to the Vangelis soundtrack of the film "Blade Runner." Munisteri uses space effectively, moving his dancers in quirky formations and lapsing into the vernacular of cha cha steps at pleasingly odd moments, but speaking as a Blade Runner fan, I found the use of dialogue from key moments of the film distracting. The film is so visually arresting that hearing a few lines backed by Vangelis' eery techno music made me want to see the film more than Munisteri's dancers—probably not the effect Munisteri was looking for. He will premier a new work later in the season.
Thanks to Glover, however, the evening closed on a promising note, and validated Ella Baff's referral to the Pillow in her opening remarks as "the mothership of dance." Glover and his band will return to the stage next week, this time accompanied by two more highly accomplished tappers, Jimmy Slyde and Diane Walker, and three of Glover's young protegés. It promises to be a lively start to a diverse festival program embracing contemporary ballet, modern, hip-hop, tap, dance theater, African-American dance and even tribal Maori dance as envisioned by the New Zealand group, Black Grace. This wide ranging programming gives the Pillow a metaphorical stab at The Zone by providing a welcoming forum where a variety of dance can be seen by an enthusiastic and supportive audience. The ghosts of Ted Shawn and his Men Dancers are very present in the Pillow's bucolic setting, and it's easy to imagine them graciously serving tea before the performance—as was their custom—anticipating with the rest of us an evening of pure dance under the night sky of the Berkshires.
Photo: Savion Glover, by Len Irish.