BECKET — In the program note for her “Home Studies: Parlor Floor Life,” choreographer Helen Pickett writes, regarding the process of creating and rehearsing ballet with her dancers on Zoom, “We needed to create , so we found our way. The dance prevailed.
Dance also prevailed at Jacob’s Pillow this summer, after a particularly difficult time that included the cancellation of its 2020 Festival and then the shocking loss to fire of one of its two iconic theaters. But this beloved historic institution has also gone on and is celebrating the end of another inspiring summer festival this week, albeit taking place entirely on its beautiful outdoor stage. Pickett’s dance is one of five in this week’s “Ballet Coast to Coast” program, which features some dancers from Boston Ballet, Houston Ballet and Seattle’s Pacific Northwest Ballet.
“Home Studies”, originally created for and presented in a virtual format, has been “redesigned” and slightly expanded for live performances. Boston’s three reps – Lia Cirio, Paul Craig and My’Kal Stromile – convey the meaning of privacy confined to small interior spaces. The three could be roommates, with Cirio and Craig romantically involved and Stromile occasionally rocking that number in a crowd. Stromile, however, is not presented as a miserable loner, but as a restless spirit yearning for liberation. Pickett did a beautiful, long solo for him that begins and ends with him in a chair, whipping his arms and legs into etched, layered angles, as if his limbs were a puzzle he puts together and takes apart. Conversely, when standing, he moves his expressive body with a wonderful combination of pulling delicacy.
With Cirio and Craig’s funny “I’m wide awake!” And you?” duo, they also share a tender, filled with soft and slippery partners. It evokes the different paths within a relationship: negotiation and uncertainty, but also nostalgia and intimacy.
This opening of the program has a bright bookend in the final piece, Alejandro Cerrudo’s haunting “Second to Last” from 2013. The structure of the dance is simple, a series of five lightly overlapping duets, performed by members of each company. The dancers lift or lean towards each other with a kind of tactile precaution which, coupled with the elegiac nature of the music — Arvo Pärt’s searing ‘Spiegel im Spiegel’ — lends the work an air of poignant mystery. As I wondered when I saw the play before, are these lovers saying goodbye, or are they memories of past loves?
I always want there to be at least one same-sex couple among the five, which is noticeably lacking in most ballets of the past. Rightly, this absence has been criticized as another area – like its overwhelming whiteness – where the world of ballet has been terribly disconnected. However, this Pillow program is an optimistic sign, with welcome diversity among performers and choreographers.
The deceased (large) Ulysses DoveOriginally created for New York City Ballet in 1994, ‘Red Angels’ is thrilling, and not just for the audience: Richard Einhorn’s thrilling composition for electric violin is matched by Dove’s breathtaking choreography. In this non-stop tour de force, ever so slightly ironic – staged here by Pacific Northwest Ballet director Peter Boal, who was part of the original cast – there is little room for hesitation in the side of the dancers. . On Wednesday afternoon, the actors fared better in their solos, each lending intriguing individual tunes to their physical endeavors: Christopher D’Ariano charismatic but with slightly tense tension; She Macy, with a deliciously icy then burning precision; Amanda Morgan, with her gorgeous arms and legs for days (and days), cool, enigmatic; and Dylan Wald, whose nerves of steel come with a look to match (perhaps too humorless?).
Although too brief, the excerpts from Justin Peck’s “Reflections,” which he made for Houston Ballet in 2019, are strong enough to leave a lasting impression and to be sorry for the lack of more. In moves reminiscent of the male duet of George Balanchine’s neoclassical paragon “Agon” (indeed, it’s likely that Peck, former dancer and now resident choreographer of New York City Ballet, is deliberately quoting here, in homage to the co-founder) Harper Watters and Chandler Dalton mirror each other outstretched, or cross their forearms like swords. At one point Karina González, a lyrical pixie, slips between the men, but emerges just as easily, happy to frolic on her own as the men rehearse their duet. Watters and González also join their own duet, a gentle, windy lark that ends with them bowing, as with the wind, and running away, as in the setting sun.
In “Reflections” and in their sublime pas de deux in excerpts from Houston Ballet director Stanton Welch’s 2013 “Sons of the Soul” set to music by Frédéric Chopin, Watters and González reveal that they possess one of these “surprisingly rare” true” dance partnerships. They complement each other, they breathe and move as one: they connect. Even the most virtuoso lifts are smooth and calm, but there is a wonderful spark, an undercurrent to their serenity. This understated quality informs Watters’ lovely solo (itself perhaps Welch’s nod to Jerome Robbins, the City Ballet’s other celebrated choreographer), peppered with stylized folk-dance mazurkas as well as good old swaying ballet. The movement springs from González and Watters like a flowing river, as if it were the most natural thing in the world.