NEVER STAND STILL: DANCING AT JACOB’S PILLOW
July 13, 2012
In essence, Ron Housa’s 74-minute documentary tribute to Jacob’s Pillow is a recruiting film; not for dancers as much as for the Cause of Dance itself. If you’re already on-board, whether as bun head or balletomane, cultist or choreographer, then there isn’t much to “Never Stand Still” that you don’t already know. In fact, as you’re reading this, just the words, “Jacob’s Pillow”, are enough to delicately set off daydreams of having permanent summer reservations in the Berkshires.
If nothing else, those dreams can only be augmented by “Never Stand Still”, thanks to its sharp-toned digital cinematography by Jimmy O’Donnell and Etienne Stuart of both the lush green backdrop of western Massachusetts and the varied stages and rehearsal venues of this Mecca for contemporary dance. As you revel in the Pillow’s bucolic, utopian aura, the narration, by none other than Bill T. Jones, unobtrusively weaves in the necessary historic details: How Ted Shawn bought the historic farm in 1930 and by the end of the decade had used members of his trailblazing all-men’s dance company to build many of the stages comprising the Pillow’s performance complex; then, Shawn’s expansion of the festival’s reach and reputation throughout the mid-20th century up to his death in 1972.
What difficulties may have ensued in the wake of Shawn’s passing are barely alluded to in the film. We are instead pushed to the festival’s present-day glory primarily through interviews with a glittering array of talking heads: Mark Morris, Paul Taylor, Suzanne Farrell, Marge Champion (looking and sounding fabulous at 90-whatever), Bill Irwin, Judith Jamison, onetime Pina Bausch protégé Shantala Shivalingapppa and Merce Cunningham himself, live and in color from the Great Beyond. The post-Millennial diversity of the festival’s offerings is likewise presented in kaleidoscopic fashion with the Royal Danish Ballet, the Australian-based Chunky Move Dance Company, and the Brazilian-based Mimulus Dance Company all offering tantalizing samples of their wares.
They and everyone else in this film leave you wanting more, which may well have been the effect both Housa and the Pillow wanted to establish. Still, there are more than performances you wish “Never Stand Still” had additional time for; for instance, suggestions, at least, as to what it takes in terms of credentials or reputation for a company to be added to the Pillow’s summer schedule -- or for a dance student or novice to be part of the prestigious education programs. But that would take longer than this genial, leisurely tour has time for. So if you know somebody who loves or parents a dancer and wonders, as Bad Boys of Dance founder Rasta Thomas says, “what I’m doing here,” “Never Stand Still” isn’t a bad way to at least get their minds and hearts moving.
“Never Stand Still” Dancing at Jacob’s Pillow” will be available on DVD July 17.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Gene Seymour