Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Pillow where nobody sleeps

I rarely review a piece of a movie, but I was so touched by the abbreviated version of "Never Stand Still" that I'm going to make an exception.

When it reached a few theaters last spring, the documentary ran 78 minutes. The version I saw, which premieres on PBS Friday, has been trimmed to fit into a one-hour time slot. (It'll start on the South Carolina ETV network at 9 p.m. and UNC-TV's network at 9:30 p.m., though both will show encores.) Truncated as it is, it's essential viewing if you love dance. Here's an extended trailer:

The new title gives a clue to what it's about: "Dancing at Jacob's Pillow: Never Stand Still." It's set in the Massachusetts retreat opened in 1931 by modern dancers Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn, where the first U.S. theater built specifically for dance inspired a tradition that survives today. (The Royal Danish Ballet and Nederlands Dans Theatre, among other companies, made their U.S. debut there.)

The movie includes brief (too brief) archival footage, including bits of Shawn's groundbreaking all-male company of the 1940s. But my favorite segment showed current bad-boy choreographer Rasta Thomas twitching and flitting for a minute or so to Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumblebee."

Narrator Bill T. Jones fills in the historical gaps, but most of the sound bites come from interviews with great dancers or choreographers linked to the Pillow: Paul Taylor, Mark Morris, Suzanne Farrell. ("We would dance even if no one came," says Farrell. "We want to give: That's our purpose.")

The film conveys especially well how hard it is to make or perform dance: As Morris observes, "Dancing is a job, not a phase to get through." All that lyricism and emotion and excitement comes from hours of sweat and falls and headaches the viewer never sees.