DANCE REVIEW: Dance Heginbotham’s new ‘Dance Sonata’ goes nowhere | Berkshire landscapes


BECKET — A good dance class guide can be hard to find: it’s a calling. John Heginbotham, a longtime former dancer with the Mark Morris Dance Group, and now a choreographer with his own namesake company, knows good accompanists. (Morris’ choreography is celebrated very specifically for its musicality.)

For Dance Heginbotham’s performances this week at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, Heginbotham and Ethan Iverson, former musical director and class accompanist of Morris’ band, have put together a three-dance program with original choreography and music created by the of them.

The opening piece, 2015’s “Easy Win,” is an abstract frolic inspired by Heginbotham and Iverson’s experiences dancing and performing for Morris’ ballet lessons. With Iverson playing eight delightfully titled pieces on solo piano – the near-universal method for ballet class music – seven dancers move on and off stage, in and out of groups, form lines or circles. While this is certainly an often deliberately goofy depiction of a ballet class, the atmosphere captures how the dancers are deeply interested and even obsessed with the details (usually).

The dancers bounce on plies, describe ovals with their legs in circles, jump, turn, stretch. Rinse and repeat. In “Jumps for Harriet”, dancers throw again and again, others mirror or follow, or, if necessary, jump over another dancer who happens to be lying on the floor. In “An Unlikely Romeo”, Justin Dominic and Weaver Rhodes have the stage mostly to themselves, but first remain in their own world, extending one leg in a long development or stretch; eventually, the two turn cautiously before finally allowing a hint of a duet, as they take a simple box step, their hips swaying in subtle flirtation.

The myriad of detail and repetition are necessary to develop and maintain his technique; but the dancers are still human (and Heginbotham’s choreography is often funny), so in the “Slow Grind” section we see dancers withering like flowers in lack of water, even dozing off while standing , perhaps waiting for an in-the-discussion of technical weed details ends and the dancing resumes.

They spring back to life, and the class continues, with the double feeling of exhaustion and exuberance – endorphins, baby! — which almost always accompanies the end of the dance class.

Yet a friend once remarked that for non-dancers, watching a dance class can be like watching paint dry, and even this whimsical sketch of a class – and even to me, another obsessed one – seems sputter and run out of gas from time to time.

I’m sincerely sorry to report that “Dance Sonata”, the new piece Heginbotham and Iverson concocted for this Pillow night, isn’t going anywhere (for me, anyway).

Iverson is joined by terrific fellow musicians – violinist Pauline Kim Harris, drummer Vincent Sperrazza and bassist Dylan Stone – in a succinct rendition of his spirited, jazzy four-part sonata.

In his program note, Heginbotham says that “If ‘Easy Win’ is the ballet lesson – the warm-up – for a performance, ‘Dance Sonata’ is the show.” However, the piece is more like the sketching, marking and noodles that the dancers do in rehearsals, individually, rather than a series of movements and phrases that coalesce into a set work. Dancers have a lot of fun going through simple jazzy/contemporary/balletic moves.

Looking gorgeous in Maile Okamura’s elaborate and detailed costumes, the dancers are given plenty of kickball changes, chases, spread hands, vines, and more. Much of it seems hastily assembled; filling to occupy the dancers.

But kudos to the talented and dedicated dancers in both dances, who, in addition to Dominic and Rhodes, included in Thursday night’s performance: Paige Barnett, Christine Flores, Lindsey Jones, Courtney Lopes, Mykel Marai Nairne and Macy Sullivan.

I loved other Heginbotham works, especially his evening pieces ‘Chalk and Soot’ and ‘The Principles of Uncertainty’. Fortunately, “The Understudies”, the Heginbotham duo dancing with the incandescent Amber Star Merkens (another colleague of the Morris company) is, quite simply, beautiful, in its beautiful simplicity. Accompanied by Iverson and Harris, performing Iverson’s “Adagio”, soft and melancholic, these two veteran artists evoke a couple faced with the decision to hold on or let go. They stand side by side, so close that their arms seem covered in velcro, but then their feet gradually move apart, until they lean, in opposite directions, away from each other. other. It’s heartbreaking and suspenseful, but Merkens, just in time, grabs Heginbotham’s hand. They are kissing; they mingle in a familiar, intimate, but absent slow dance; Heginbotham throws Merkins’ arm over his shoulder and lifts his seemingly inert body just a little off the ground, several times. He moves away from her, she goes towards him; she moves away from him, he goes towards her. They both try, they both give up, they try again. In the end (for now), the two find themselves back where they started, side by side, but now lying down, leaning on their elbows, as if staring at the horizon. Are they watching a sunset over their relationship or the glowing depth of a rising moon? It’s so moving, this story told in the wordless language of dance, the language that can say the unspeakable.DANCE REVIEWWho: Heginbotham Dance

Where: Outdoor Stage Henry J. Leir, Jacob’s Pillow, 358 George Carter Road, Becket

When: Until August 14

Performances: 6 p.m., August 13; noon, August 14

Tickets: $25 — $35

Reservations and information: 413-243-9919, jacobspillow.org

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