Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

June 22, 2018

REVIEW: Jacob’s Pillow, Royal Danish Ballet

Jacob’s Pillow, Becket, MA
through June 24, 2018
by Josephine Sarnelli

Opening night of the 86th Jacob’s Pillow Festival highlighted its founder’s progressive view on bringing international dance to the American stage. Although Ted Shawn is identified as an innovation American modern dancer, his legacy is more about globalization and learning to appreciate different cultures through movement.

The evening began with Oyu Oro Afro Cuban Dance Ensemble offering a free performance on the Inside/Out stage. Through singing, music and dance, the 13 performers are helping to preserve the living African culture in Cuba. The women wore traditional African headwraps and 25-yard white ruffled skirts over colorful underskirts. The energy of their dancing was accentuated by the constant movements of their skirts. Although the dances were choregraphed, they had the exhilarating feel of improvisation. One of the dances included stick fighting, first among the same genders and then between the genders. Perhaps the most interesting of movements was the touching of heads by couples at their crowns, as they did back rolls.

In addition to the free performances on the Inside/Out stage throughout the Festival, Pre-Show Talks are available to all visitors at no cost, as is an extensive exhibit of vintage movie posters of classic dance films. With no admission or parking fees charged to enter the grounds, the public is invited to truly experience the Festival. In a 15-minute presentation on the Danish Ballet, the resident scholar highlighted aspects of this dance style that differentiates it from other schools of ballet. Of interest was the historical debut of the Royal Danish Ballet at Jacob’s Pillow, which led to the knighting of Ted Shawn by the King of Denmark in 1957.

The performance by the Royal Danish Ballet could best be described as a century of Danish dance, with the earliest piece from 1836 (La Sylphide) to the most recent in 1966 (Dvorak pas de deux). Each of the seven works performed demonstrated the “vocabulary” of Danish ballet that distinguishes it from the Russian and French styles. The tilt of the shoulder in an arabesque or the mere movement of the wrists in a pose gave inflections not seen in other balletic forms.

The opening piece, A Folktale, was exemplative of the light airiness of August Bournonville’s choreography, which is seen again in his works La Sylphide, The Kermesse in Bruges, and Giselle. There was playfulness in these pas de deux and a sense of light heartedness in the world of fairies.
Holly Jean Dorger, Photo by Claus Vedfelt

The Black Swan from Swan Lake was breathtaking with Holly Jean Dorger performing an incredible number of pirouettes and her partner, Jonathan Chmelensky, offering in return grand jetés with cabrioles.

The finale included all 10 performers in Napoli, another Bournonville choreography. It included the Tarantella, complete with tambourines and castanets. It was a wonderful conclusion to a nostalgic performance of traditional ballet.