As life in the city slows down, life in the country west of Boston ratchets up. I went out to the Berkshires to catch as much as I could of Tanglewood’s fiftieth Festival of Contemporary Music, this year curated by Boston composers and longtime Tanglewood faculty members John Harbison (a composition fellow in 1959) and Michael Gandolfi (a fellow in 1986).
That Ted Shawn founded the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival 80 years ago speaks to how old the art form is. Of course it is difficult to speak of ‘modern dance’ as an art form or even an art movement, when its main characteristic and initial need to exist, a need going back to Nijinsky’s and Diaghilev’s to create Le Sacre du Printemps in 1913, is a highly individual self-expression through movement, though it seems that from year zero as important as this honest self-expression of the choreographer and dancer(s) are common qualities such as a sense of theatre, for like ballet this is theatrical dance, and a degree of training, a technique, even a theory (however batty). Also as important is a company for the choreographer to work with and a school attached to the company, perhaps because of the difficulty to communicate the new choreography and its ever changing styles to the dancers. But one doesn’t want to be too rigid about it. What does “Self-expression” even mean in a cooperative performing art involving many “selves”?
Jacob’s Pillow may have evolved beyond biblical allusions to the Book of Genesis, but the spirit of its namesake is exquisitely infused into the fabric of the choreographic creations that have swept across the Pillow’s three stages, carving a legacy that is nothing short of divine. Opening with Garth Fagan’s theatric masterpiece Griot New York and concluding with the wit and charisma of Larry Keigwin’s Keigwin + Company, the 2008 Festival season, I have no doubt, will be no exception.