Reader attention: The following article contains optimism.
Yet, as this is a “year in review” piece, it is important to remember that, as always, there were inevitable difficulties, disappointments and losses in the dance world in 2021. Nonetheless, dear dance lovers, I am looking forward, and placing my bets on silver linings, rather than stormy clouds. As we continue to struggle to navigate the ever-changing atmospheric effects of life during a pandemic, artists continue to do what artists do so often better – and usually much sooner – than others: they react, they adapt. They evolve.
This optimism is not based on my belief that, for example, the dance business in 2022 will completely return to normal, if by normal we mean all in-person lessons, rehearsals and live performances in front of an audience. live, all the time. As we saw in 2021, it turned out that the creative shape shift the dance community as a whole started making in March 2020 was not just a temporary curse / blessing (with the delta ), but rather an important new muscle that will need to be exercised intermittently (here is omicron). For many dancers around the world, who take classes, rehearse and perform (on balconies, in kitchens, living rooms and dorms), the Zoomasphere is both a technological marvel and a serious drag on ability. to move freely, expansively, to fly: difficult for a dancer to, as the saying goes, “eat space” by waltzing in a closet.
But they did – I have to dance! – in 2020, throughout 2021, and if current events are any indication, 2022 could see a return to an abundance of virtual visualization. As of this writing, for example, the end of the series of long-awaited live performances of the mighty Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, in his home theater, has been canceled, as have the remaining performances of the popular “The Radio”. City Rockettes “Christmas Show. Without a doubt, if you are reading this, over the past 20+ months you have sampled your share of virtual dance performances, annual presentations from local dance schools, or those offered by professional venues in our area, or the offer of dance companies around the world.
While inspiring, this adaptability is not the end goal. Surely the biggest takeaway from this glut of dance streaming is the reminder that there is nothing quite like the real thing (in person, live performance). And live dancing finally returned to live stages in 2021: It helped that a lot of those stages were outdoors, whether in the traditional sense – structures with planks and raised platforms – or with nature itself serving as both a surface and a backdrop. The return of live performances to our beloved Jacob’s Pillow Dance – where the majority of the live dance performances I attended in 2021 have taken place – has been doubly heartwarming. Because, not only was its 2020 Festival canceled entirely for the first time in its long history, but then, in November 2020, one of its two indoor theaters was destroyed in a fire, a shocking heartbreak for the community of the dance from here and elsewhere.
Although by early summer (when the annual pillow festival began) many were starting to feel more secure attending public events, the decision had already been made to hold all performances in outside. As the summer wore on and the Delta variant gained a foothold, this decision seemed not only prescient, but reassuring. (The other, older and deeply historic indoor theater, named after Pillow founder Ted Shawn, was offline as previously planned renovations began. Indeed, a highlight of the upcoming 2022 Pillow Festival will be the grand reopening of the Shawn Theater, just in time to celebrate The Pillow’s 90th anniversary.)
Ideally, the pillow has a rather magnificent outdoor stage, on which, in previous years, free performances were offered as part of the “Inside / Out” series. This year, out of necessity, the professional and paid shows that would have taken place inside were moved here, with new, handsome but humble wooden benches installed in place of the rustic logs that served as seats. The “scenery” is spectacular: the dancers perform supported and flanked by the glorious Berkshire Hills, you have to see it to believe it.
Some of my most delightful memories of the glorious buffet I had the privilege of tasting at The Pillow (with quotes from my critics) include: the “bustling frame of terrific dancers” of the Ballet Hispánico, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary; Brian Brooks’ Moving Company in his poetic and ingeniously constructed “Closing Distance” and Brooks himself in his new “haunting and hopeful” solo “Quiet Music”; “The generous and joyful elixir” served by the dancers and musicians of LaTasha Barnes’ “Jazz Continuum”, with “Barnes the matriarch / force of nature at its center”; the performances of the Dallas Black Dance Theater, showcasing its “virtuoso style of contemporary movement” in a triple bill that has often reminded us of “the absolute beauty that is present, in this existence”; and Houston Ballet dancers Karina González and Harper Watters, who “have one of those surprisingly rare ‘real’ partnerships,” performing, as part of the “Ballet Coast to Coast” program, the “sublime pas de deux” by Stanton Welch. Son of the soul.
It should be noted that although she was not listed in the Pillow’s performance schedule, Mother Nature ended up, uh, eclipsing many performers; As it turns out, July 2021 was, as Pillow director Pamela Tatge recently noted, one of the “rainiest on record.” Thus, many performances had to be canceled. Kudos to Mighty Pillow, however, for rolling with the punches; were there unhappy customers? If so, what to say if not … come to think of it, in the spirit of the end of the year holidays: too bad.
The holiday spirit is as good as anything to my aforementioned optimism I guess. As in many industries, there have long been protests against systemic abuses and blatant disparities and discrimination in dance. During the pandemic, however, several social justice movements seemed to gain prominence and therefore more traction in the larger world of dance. This “pause” has, in fact, given many pauses: time and space to take a step back, to consider, to refocus – and in a fascinating way, to reject, loud and clear, the crimes and offenses that were allowed to exist in the dance world. .
Naturally, a certain pessimism casts a shadow over my optimism – many, many, many have been protesting the presence of outright racism, misogyny, classism (and, alas, “etc.”) for ages, and yet here we are. , still protesting – but the lights of some silver liners guide me forward. Lately, it often seems that the lost guardians of yesteryear are fading into the background, as new torchbearers open those doors wide. Some large dance companies and schools are in turmoil, with more and more women and people of color moving into leadership positions; There is open talk about the mental health of dancers, with the aim of offering genuine support and services rather than stigma (and there are recent discussions of the dangerous police weight of dancers and calls to renounce the practice. stupid to weigh dancers); companies featuring dancers with disabilities received more media attention; and, although many companies and schools are still, after all this time, far behind in terms of truly diverse rosters, when there are promotions or nominations of dancers of color, or when women and / or people of color and / or not – binary choreographers are commissioned in largely white spaces, the news is praised, loud. As I finished this article, I quickly went through Dance Magazine’s “25 to watch” list, which arrived in my inbox about an hour earlier. Oh, the wonderful array of skin tones, dance genres, gender expression! Somewhere above that rainbow is where my optimism lives.