Joel Greenberg

Jacob’s Pillow/Ted Shawn Theatre

Jacob’s Pillow is all-too-quickly coming to the end of its 75th anniversary season!

Think of someone you know, or may have met, whose 75 years of life seem only to invigorate, strengthen and inspire them and, by extension, you. That’s the Pillow for me and thousands of others. How I would have enjoyed more time in the Berkshires this season, but I could carve out only a single week and so, earlier this month I had another typical JP experience: a U.S. debut of a young dance company whose energy, imagination and gut-deep passion made the evening nothing less than a standout. I was hardly alone in my response.

Henri Oguike works out of London, brings an eclectic dance background to his company and interprets his ideas through dancers for whom he clearly has both respect and with whom he has established a chemistry that vibrates far beyond the stage. I have praised so much of the recent work at Jacob’s Pillow and always with some trepidation about how many superlatives can fairly be used without risking diminishing returns. But it’s only fair to respond to what I experienced, and I have to add here that this ensemble is person-for-person the strongest company I can recall having seen in years.

All the dancers have distinctive personalities and each responds to the choreography without ever working to blend into some larger pattern. Movement which demands minute attention to moving body parts, connecting elements like knees and ankles, elbows and fingers, are pushed to the limit. And the dancers punctuate without ever confusing. Further, there is not a moment when our eye is drawn to a single artist unless Oguike’s masterful eye sharpens our own focus.

White Space opened the programme. Beautifully lit (by designer Guy Hoare) areas revealed bodies in space, separate and in combination. Dancers’ visual narratives introduced us to Oguike’s vocabulary and style at the same time that they brought us into their carefully defined world. Bold, extended body language was coupled with almost fanatic attention to smaller details. The canvas was richly textured.

Expression Lines, a solo performed by Oguike himself, and Tiger Dancing, a company piece, made up the second of three acts. And this was followed by Second Signal, the music for which was accompanied by Taiko Meantime, a trio of Taiko drummers: Mark Alcock, James Barrow, Ed Pickering. The synergy between music and movement was mesmerizing. The imagery of sound and body gained momentum and built to a climax of spontaneous audience cheers. In the late 60’s, when the musical revue Jacques Brel is Alive and Well… first opened in New York, one critic was quoted as declaring that the material was capable of driving an audience to a frenzy. I never quite understood how that particular show could have prompted such trumpeting. After experiencing the Henri Oguike Dance Company, I now understand what that means.

Jacob’s Pillow gets better with each season, not because the work onstage is compared in good-better-best terms, one company to the next, but especially because the work is brought to us with fiery determination and unapologetic adoration. And the entire creative and administrative team at the Pillow shares the honour of achieving so much and dreaming of so much more.



© - Joel Greenberg AISLE SAY

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