It rained the day before the Jacob’s Pillow Gala. It rained the day after the Jacob’s Pillow Gala. Fortunately, the rain gods were too busy elsewhere to cause trouble in Becket, Massachusetts on Saturday the 15th of June at 5:00 P.M. Pink umbrellas hung on the chairs for the banquet in the gigantic tent, just in case, but the sunny landscape could rouse in your mind the refrain of Federico Garcia Lorca’s poem “Romancero Sonambula:” “Green, how I want you green./Green wind. Green branches. . . ”
Wandering around the lawns and into some of the buildings, drink in hand, you might come across one or some or all of the six dancers of Wild Rhythm (Evita Arce, Latasha Barner, Brandon Barker, Nathan Bugh and the co-choreographers Gaby Cook and Elena Valencia) as they tapped smartly to Ray Charles or Count Basie on tape. You (well, I for sure) could remember the old days, when the Pillow’s founder Ted Shawn had stretched a gated fence across the premises; you could go into the theater of course, but almost everything else was off limits, and some of the buildings didn’t exist yet. No library back then. No place to eat dinner either. Or wander.
As director Pamela Tatge informed the 2019 crowd in the theater, Matthew Neenan had composed and rehearsed the opening number for twenty-one students enrolled in the School at Jacob’s Pillow’s Contemporary Ballet Program in only four days (concerted gasp from the audience). Co-director of the program with Alexandra Damiani, he showed off the accomplished young dancers with skill and sensitivity (he must have been very well prepared and they beyond diligent). To excerpts from “In Gabriel’s Garden,” performed on tape by Winton Marsalis, Anthony Newman, and the English Chamber Orchestra, the dancers often assembled in two groups—one group keeping relatively still and the other moving—and shifted the audience’s attention between precise unison phrases and complex tangles, or thrust an occasional pair into prominence.
Trey McIntyre’s Less Amor was also a world premiere and a Jacob’s Pillow Commission. It involved two chairs, two dancers (Taimy Rodriguez and Eoghan Dillon) and a fine singer-composer Amber Martin, who was at times joined by recorded material. It seemed to me that there was plenty of “amor” on view—at least, if you might relate the unexpected merging and entangling of two bodies to an act of love depicted by imaginative athletes. Martin was part of their world—observing them, reaching out to them, perhaps even guarding them.
Just before Tatge presented Annabelle Lopez Ochoa with the 2019 Jacob’s Pillow Award, Oliver Greene-Cramer and Grace Morton of Ballet Austin performed Lopez Ochoa’s Symbiotic Twin (originally created for New York City Ballet’s Ashley Bouder and Taylor Stanley). Lopez Ochoa, half Belgian and half Colombian, has created over ninety works for more than fifty different companies worldwide—works that combine the ballet vocabulary with more contemporary material. Symbiotic Twin presented her two dancers as intensely aware of each other, and intimately—at times uncomfortably—connected, once opening their mouths as if calling silently for help.
The award of $25,000 to Lopez Ochoa amounts to half the ongoing, annual anonymous donation that supports the Pillow’s commitment to developing new work. The Gala itself raises money to support its various endeavors, and the live auction that took place in the theater during the program could get you a trip for two to the Zulu Nyala Game Lodge or a Rhine Getaway Cruise for two, while the twenty-five items displayed in the silent auction could treat you to art, meals, classes, trips, shows, get-togethers with friends and people you’d like to know (such as dinner for ten with Governor and Mrs. Deval Patrick).
Heady from all the money being solicited during the bidding by auctioneer Audrey Smaltz, you could sit back, breathe deeply, and watch the last number on the program: Bzzz by Caleb Teicher, who performed with members of his small company, five of whom were, like the choreographer, alumni of Jacob’s Pillow: Brittany DeStefano, Naomi Funaki, Jabu Graybeal, Luke Hickey, Demi Remick, and Tamil Sakurai. The piece, which took place on three low, intersecting red platforms included lively solo improvisations by various of the dancers. And their finely organized shenanigans were goaded on by the remarkable vocalizing of Chris Celiz, who crooned and spat and clicked into his microphone a litany of sounds that evoked an alien world.
It wasn’t yet dark when, replete with food, drink, art, and conversation, we made our way to our car and the open road. This week, Jacob’s Pillow began its summer season of presentations. And, today, June 21, we can all celebrate the summer solstice and be grateful for fertility in nature, as well as in the arts.