Picture your favorite dance company in rehearsal. Imagine the dancers stretching against the barre, smashing their pointe shoes against the floor. Up front, the choreographer goes over her notes, and the pianist organizes his sheet music for the day.
Now imagine that instead of a studio, this scene takes place on an early 20th century farm. In place of high ceilings and track lighting are open barn doors and timber beams. The smell of pine trees and bug spray replace the smell of sweat, and instead of traffic noise – songbirds and wind chimes.
Becket, MA – a sleepy little town situated deep in the Berkshires – boasts one of the most iconic dance centers in the world. Celebrating its 82nd season, Jacob’s Pillow is like an intensive summer camp for dance of all levels, all genres, and all nationalities.
I had the privilege of attending Jacob’s Pillow to review performances by The Hong Kong Ballet (HKB), part of Northrop’s 2014-15 dance season. But there is always much more going on at the Pillow, such as pre-show discussions, film showings, exhibits, and drop-in dance and yoga classes for all ages.
I arrived early on a gorgeous, sunny day (coincidentally, the summer solstice!) to catch a free performance at Inside/Out, the Pillow’s magnificent outdoor stage. That evening’s performance was presented by The School at Jacob's Pillow’s Ballet program, which brings together 22 dancers from all over the world for an intensive month of dance and performance instruction. The audience was treated to a new piece by Jessica Lang, as well as a series of classical solos, pas de deux, and ensemble work. The performance ended just as the sun fell below the Berkshire Hills, signaling the audience to head back for the evening’s main event.
The Hong Kong Ballet performed in the largest event space, the Ted Shawn Theatre (named after the festival’s founder). The company performed three pieces of repertoire: the sad and beautiful pas de trois by National Ballet of China’s Bo Fei, A Room of Her Own; an all-male cast of torturers in Nacho Duato’s Castrati; and finally the joyful U.S. Premiere of In Light and Shadow (Krzysztof Pastor).
The cast is young, but very well-trained and deeply mature in their performance ability. The women of HKB are delicate, but strong and agile, seamlessly transitioning between classical technique and modern styles. Equally as impressive are the men, who are strong and bold in their movement, and just as flexible as the ballerinas.
Whereas Ailey dancers train to develop strong upper bodies and shoulders, and New York City Ballet dancers are known for their signature leaps and leg extension, HKB’s strength lies in their core – the abs, back, and upper thighs. The company’s artistic director (Stockholm-born Madeleine Onne) seems attuned to this fact, as all three pieces of repertoire featured complicated partnering, rolling hips, and deep floor work.
I can only imagine how incredible The Hong Kong Ballet will be when unleashed into a full-scale story ballet like Turandot. Performing at Northrop on Nov 6 & 7, I can easily see this company becoming a Twin Cities favorite!
Jacob’s Pillow is an absolutely magical place, and a must-see for dance and music lovers alike. I cannot express what a transformative experience it was for me, and I hope to visit for many summers to come!