Go Inside Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival

By Kris Wilton

June 29, 2012

Emma McGovern and Lewis West of Circa; photo by Christopher Duggan.

BECKET, MA - Kicking off their opening week performance at the 80th Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Becket, Massachusetts, the members of Brisbane-based circus and movement company Circa seemed to have lost control over their limbs.

Bursting onstage to insistent, frenzied electronica, the first landed splat on her belly. From the floor, she and others popped spontaneously into backbends. Hands flew skyward despite the strained resistance of their owners. Then flips, handstands, more splats.

Introducing Circa, festival creative director Ella Baff had struck an apologetic tone. It’s not exactly dance, she said. But it does require precision choreography, and push the boundaries of physical ability. I’ll say! Also, the theme of lost control nods to The Red Shoes, the legendary dance film in which an ambitious ballerina makes a Faustian bargain that renders her a magnificent dancer — who can never stop dancing.

Of course the members of Circa – four bare-chested men and three leotarded women – have utmost control over their limbs, willing them into feats that defy gravity, physics (or at least common sense), thrilling and terrifying the audience. Freyja Edney, a powerhouse, balanced male dancers on her shoulders, arms, and head. Scott Grove carried two dancers stacked on his shoulders. The effervescent Valérie Doucet spent half the performance in some form of handstand.

At times it was also gorgeous – Emma McGovern’s graceful aerial routine, Edney’s mind-blowing mastery of multiple circus rings, and especially the challenging balancing poses, like contact improv on steroids.

Throughout the performance, I kept wondering why it wasn’t exactly dance. I’m honestly not sure. Would it need more artistic expression? More inventive choreography? I’ve certainly seen dance performances that were no stronger in either category.

Freyja Edney of Circa; photo by Christopher Duggan.

I wish I could stay all summer and think about this some more. For dance freaks like me, there is simply no better place to be in the summertime than Jacob’s Pillow, and there’s no better way to learn about dance than to see a lot of it. Each weekend brings a renowned company to each intimate main stage, and it’s almost impossible to have a bad experience. Before and after the show, visitors can hear lectures, see free “Indoor/Out” performances, have a bite to eat, and tell a choreographer how much they like her work as she ambles along the path (as I did with Karole Armitage two summers ago).

Sure to stun this summer are Morphoses, coming up this weekend, Bill T. Jones (July 25–29), and the Joffrey Ballet (August 22–26). Companies I haven’t seen and wish I could include Kidd Pivot Frankfurt RM (June 27 – July 1) and Jonah Bokaer & David Hallberg (August 1–5). But really, it’s impossible to go wrong. Go see anything.

Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival
Through August 26
Becket, MA 01223
(413) 243 - 0745



About the Author
Kris Wilton Kris Wilton
Kris is a freelance arts journalist who has contributed reported pieces and reviews to outlets including the Huffington Post, Slate.com, Artinfo.com, Modern Painters, Art+Auction, Art New England, New England Home, Entertainment Weekly, the Village Voice, Bostonist.com, ARTnews, Philadelphia Weekly, Emerging Photographer, Photo District News, and RL Magazine.


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