Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 24, 2018

REVIEW: Philadanco: A non-dancer’s experience at Jacob’s Pillow

Jacob’s Pillow, Becket, MA
by Shera Cohen

Through the years, I have recommended that audience members who appreciate one genre take a chance on attending another. “But, I hate opera,” says a friend. Or, “Improv theatre is the last thing on my bucket list.” In my case, “I like dance, but don’t understand it.”

Seeing a performance by the award-winning Philadanco maintained my stance that I do like dance, yet for the most part, I didn’t understand it. However, I learned something very important – I don’t have to understand it. Understanding is not synonymous with acknowledging talent and artistry. For me, dance is a feeling that touches most of the senses. Philadanco did just that: sometimes with gentle lifts, other times with loud musical background.

Photo by Christopher Duggan
This troupe is currently preparing for its 50th anniversary in 2020. Philadanco is know for its exceptional dance performances around the world. Interestingly, the concert’s program book states that one of Philadanco’s missions is to train audiences. Of course, the company provides education and resources to those in dance, but acknowledging that audiences can take the opportunity to realize and value this genre is a surprise.

The dancers, all young and naturally energetic, performed four lengthy pieces. “Super 8!” literally kicked off the program in which nine men and women danced solo, in duets, and ensembles of various sizes. The piece’s description in the program speaks of “love, sensuality, seduction; communication between two brothers; and celebration of cohesive communities…” The tempo of the music matched the jumps and spins on the stage in the Doris Duke Theatre. “Super 8!” was, at times, harsh yet soothed by quiet contortions of these skilled performers.

“Endangered Species” was the one blatantly clear story of black men in the broader spectrum of modern society. Incarceration and bleak futures were offset with images of pride and strength as portrayed by six male dancers.
The near opposite in theme, execution, visualization, and music was “Suite en Blue.” Reminiscent of courtly manners of the 18th and 19th centuries, the form was classic ballet. Gentle sweeps on the floor, high spins, and bows made this work extremely accessible.

The program ended with Philadanco’s signature piece, “Enemy Behind the Gate.” “Enemy” is described in the program book as, “They look like you, they act like you, they live like you, but they are not one of you.” It was no wonder that the full ensemble, each dressed in black and white, made for a perfectly eerie experience.

For those already familiar with dance and Jacob’s Pillow, the remainder of the season offers many more wonderful and diverse concerts. For people like me: give dance a chance.