Invitation To the Season


Ira Glass with Monica Bill Barnes and Anna Bass Photo: David Basemore

Ira Glass opened by saying that “Nobody wanted this except the three of us.” Speaking from the stage at Jacob’s Pillow last weekend, he was referring to himself and the two dancers with whom he created “Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host,” acknowledging how improbable it was that such a combination could be entertaining or make any sense at all. Glass is the host of the long-running NPR show, “This American Life,” and “Three Acts” was a blend of radio stories from the show along with much more personal reflections than Glass usually injects into TAL. All were interwoven with dancing from Monica Bill Barnes, who choreographed and directed the show, and her colleague Anna Bass. Improbable as it was, and count me, a huge fan both of dance and Glass, as a skeptic going in, the show was charming: hilarious,  touching and wildly entertaining. Barnes’s droll choreography was a perfect match for the Glass sensibility. But several hours after seeing it, while composing this review, I will confess that I still don’t think the combination worked. Much as I enjoyed the show, dance touches a different part of my soul than verbal storytelling, and I think I prefer to keep them separate. Luckily, I can have both: “This American Life” will continue (forever, most likely --— as Glass pointed out, public radio hosts never get fired), and there are hundreds of dance performances to feed my soul in our region this summer.

Beginning with Kaatsbaan in Tivoli: Lar Lubovitch is performing on June 20. Pam Tanowitz Dance and Flux Quartet will be at Bard Summerscape, June 27-28. The Nutmeg Summer Dance Festival is at the Warner Theatre, Torrington, July 24-25. Mark Morris Dance Company returns to Tanglewood, July 25-26. And the Mahaiwe in Great Barrington will present several companies, including Noche Flamenca July 2-5 and Paul Taylor Dance Company from July 9-12. On the weekend of July 31 - Aug. 2, The Wassaic Project, the burgeoning art festival at Maxon Mills, will have at least a half-dozen companies performing, if last year’s event is any guide. (All these venues have websites with specifics.)

But for the widest range of performances, Jacob’s Pillow Summer Dance Festival, which starts next weekend with nearly 60 different dance companies performing, many of them on the free outdoor stage, is the place to be. 

An hour north and east of Lakeville, in bucolic Becket, MA, the Pillow is in its 83rd year and, as always, offers everything from the experimental (Big Dance Theater) to the revered (Martha Graham Company, now in its 90th year), from child-friendly (New York Theater Ballet’s production of “Cinderella”) to the provocative (Madboots). Companies from all over the world are represented, from the Netherlands, Cuba, Germany and Canada as well as one called Company Wang Ramirez — one founder is French with Spanish roots, the other is German with Korean roots.

And for those not quite sure if dance is your thing, the Inside/Out stage requires minimal commitment; the shows are less than an hour long, and they’re free. Bring a picnic and don’t get cranky if there’s a crying baby or talkative toddler sitting on the log bench next to you -— that’s how the next generation of dancers and dance goers start.

Whether your taste runs to demure maidens in tutus or buff young shirtless men, whether your spirit thrills more to leaping, tapping, high kicks or swiveling hips, dance offers something no other art form can. You can leave your intellect behind (if you wish) but still engage all your senses. You can imagine yourself on stage, able to do what these impossibly strong and graceful human bodies so effortlessly do. You can revel in the music, contemplate theme and story, marvel at the inventiveness, scratch your head at the strange and unexpected.

If I sound like I’m proselytizing for dance,  I’m an unabashed fan. For most of the year, our region has little dance to offer, either to see or to do (if you’re older than 12 or so.) But for the next ten weeks we are rich in dance offerings, and I for one plan on fully partaking. I hope you will too.