Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Never Stand Still at Jacob’s Pillow

Jacob’s Pillow could be thought of as a Tanglewood for dance.  Nestled in the Berkshires, it hosts some of the world’s top troupes for workshops, master classes, and site-specific commissions.  Many of the regular visiting artists discus the institution’s significance and perform to appreciative audiences in Ron Honsa’s Never Stand Still: Dancing at Jacob’s Pillow (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

In the dance world, the choreographers and dancers who have developed new work at Jacob’s Pillow are about as big as it gets.  The audience is told as much by an authority like Bill T. Jones, who serves as the film’s narrator.  We also hear from luminaries, such as Merce Cunningham, Paul Taylor, and former Balanchine prima ballerina Suzanne Farrell, now leading a company specializing in mounting her mentor’s lesser known work.  However, some of the freshest commentary (and performances) comes from MacArthur genius, dancer, and clown: Bill Irwin.

Never Stand Still is a pretty straight forward performance documentary, punctuated with appreciations for the institution founded Ted Shawn at the Hawthornesque New England farm.  That does not provide much drama or controversy to analyze, but for dance connoisseurs, it delivers the goods.  Farrell’s company is indeed present preparing a new work, but arguably the most striking (and appealingly rhythmic) performance is Gamaka, an extended solo piece by Shantala Shivalingappa. 

A master of Indian Kuchipudi dance, Shivalingappa was also a featured dancer with Pina Bausch’s company.  The film’s producers are no doubt hoping some of Pina’s specialty box office gold rubs off on it.   While nowhere near as visually arresting as Wim Wender’s remarkably crafted film, Never Stand Still's standard 2D serves the choreography well enough.  Yet, like Wenders, Honsa also has the good sense to largely step out of the way of the impressive performances.

Those passionate about dance should be delighted with Never Stand Still, while those less steeped in the art should find it a pleasant and accessible horizon expander.  Eventually, it should fit nicely under the auspices of either Great Performances or American Masters on PBS, but it deserves a respectful theatrical audience in the mean time.  Recommended for refined viewers, it opens this Friday (5/18) in New York at the Quad Cinema.