Entertainment » Theatre

Review: Brian Brooks' Moving Company Offers Premieres at Jacob Pillow

by Sue Katz
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Jul 26, 2021
Matthew Albert of Brian Brooks and his Moving Company
Matthew Albert of Brian Brooks and his Moving Company  (Source:Erin Baiano)

Brian Brooks and his Moving Company gifted a hungry dance audience with an affecting performance on the Henry J. Leir outside stage at Jacob's Pillow. Their three pieces, forming a 45-minute program, included the world premieres of "Flight Study" and "Quiet Music," followed by the prescient "Closing Distance," which had only been performed once — just before the pandemic overtook us.

With two decades of connection to Jacob's Pillow, Brian Brooks and his dancers were the first company to enter a safe, quarantined bubble on campus to rehearse their work after seven months without contact. Brooks said that this COVID-compliant residency at the Pillow Lab was an opportunity to touch and dance, which gave them "a new confidence and ease."

We could see this as soon as the eight dancers, dressed in identical navy-blue rompers, took an opening pose like long-legged birds bent over in repose, only to rise sweetly and then contract to all fours on the stage in "Flight Study." The challenge for Brooks — a choreographer for whom physical contact is key — was how to pull together a work while the dancers were initially still in lockdown in New York. Brooks was so gratified by the input of his dancers that, for the first time, he gave them joint choreographic credit.

The strings-heavy "Aheym" by Bryce Dessner provided an emotional context for gliding movements that swelled with increasing energy, building to a sound and dance crescendo that returned the group to their initial postures in a grand finish.

Next, as a gesture of tribute to his ensemble, Brooks premiered a rare solo, "Quiet Music," to a piano work of the same name by Nico Muhly. Brooks' shoulders were like rubber and his torso found creative angles, while the dance felt very much like a location-specific piece, with its open-air backdrop of the exquisite Berkshires countryside. And, in fact, his ending move was to hover at the far edge of the stage, his back to the audience, contemplating the landscape beyond. COVID and the isolation it brought to us all was never out of mind.

The final marvelous piece of the program, "Closing Distance," had only been performed once, in January 2020, before COVID closed dance stages everywhere. They continued to workshop it during their October 2020 residency at the Pillow Lab. The music was a melodious and voluminous weave of voices in a suite by Carline Shaw called "Partita for 8 Voices," for which Shaw won a Pulitzer Prize.

Connecting by their arms — hovering, but mostly not touching — there is a cohesion to this work that highlights the desire for touch and the human ability to bond despite restrictions. The ensemble danced as if there were a thin force field that both maintained a slight separation and created a magnetic attraction. Even as they rolled each other over, it appeared as though energy, not muscle, held them together. Although originally conceived before any lockdown, it felt to the viewer like an extraordinarily graceful expression of the contradiction we have been living: we must keep our distance from those we most want to be close to.

Jacob's Pillow has had a very difficult time, not only dealing with COVID and all its painful implications for the world of dance, but also suffering a fire by an unknown cause at the Doris Duke Theatre on November 17, 2020. It was one of only three performance spaces at Jacob's Pillow. At the same time, the Ted Shawn Theatre (1942) is undergoing renovations meant to bring it up to date, including adding air conditioning.

However, they have turned the Henry J. Leir stage into a comfortable venue with good seating (including safe, separate two-seater benches), and have set up a summer festival of terrific performances which change each week. Coming up next (July 28 - August 1) is the legendary Archie Burnett, one of the founders of the underground queer dance scene and, as their website says, the "first Father of the New York-based House of Ninja."

If you can't make it to Beckett, Massachusetts, then check out the stimulating online offerings Jacob's Pillow has arranged, from the Paris Opera Ballet to the Indian classical dance company, Nrityagram Dance Ensemble.


Brian Brooks' Moving Company performed July 21-25 at Jacob Pillow in Beckett, MA.

Sue Katz is a "wordsmith and rebel" who has been widely published on the three continents where she has lived. She used to be proudest of her 20-year martial arts career, her world travel, and her edgy blog Consenting Adult (suekatz.typepad.com), but now she's all about her collection of short stories about the love lives of older people, Lillian's Last Affair.


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