Saturday, July 14, 2012

DVDebut & dance-buff's delight: NEVER STAND STILL--Dancing at Jacob's Pillow

A don't-miss for dance enthusiasts and in some ways an even better film than Wim Wenders' wonderful Pina (and a good deal better than the recent dance competition thriller First Position), NEVER STAND STILL: Dancing at Jacob's Pillow proves a worthy addition to the canon of fine films about dance. Narrated by Bill T. Jones (though in truth there is very little narration), the documentary is comprised of a wide variety of smart, enthusiastic talking heads and an absolute cornucopia of terrific (and relatively lengthy, for a change) slices of actual dance from various companies both modern and classical. And all there at Jacob's Pillow.

Directed by Ron Honsa (shown at right, with Marge Champion, another ex-dancer of note, and now dance-champion in ways other than her name, who also appears in the film), the movie offers a wonderful smorgasbord of ballet, jazz-inflected, and contemporary dance via dancers and their companies from all over the world. There's even one terrific number reflecting social dance as performance art from the Mimulus Dance Company of Brazil (the photo below is by Guto Muniz). Beautifully photographed by newcomer Jimmy O'Donnell and vet Etienne Sauret and edited with joy and precision by another newcomer Charles Yurick, the film is able to capture these varied performers and styles remarkably well, giving us a real treasure of a view of what's going on in modern dance now, along with a look at the current and aging masters of the form.

We also get some nice historical footage of our country's ground-breakers in this field, including Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn -- the man who began Jacob's Pillow as kind of dance school, retreat and theater, all of which it has remained, while flourishing and growing with our changing times. (The photo below is of his famous Men Dancers, performing Kenetic Molpai.)

Although the documentary moves quickly (it lasts barely 75 minutes), the filmmakers enable us to truly get a sense of the art and style of each performer and/or troupe they capture via the direction, cinematography and editing. In this sense, it's an appetizer whetting our palate for more from each of the performers -- which include everyone from Rasta Thomas and his Bad Boys of Dance to The Suzanne Farrell Ballet (shown below), Mark Morris, Joanna Haigood, The Royal Danish Ballet, Judith Jamison, along with several others.

Another pleasure of the film is hearing various choreographers -- Merce Cunningham, for instance -- discuss their work, what they love and what they go after in their dances. We also, again, see enough of that work to actually understand and appreciate it. One of the highlights here is Paul Taylor, talking about then and now, as we watch his splendid company perform.

Never Stand Still is a gift for dance aficionados; if you count yourself among them, see it. Distributed by First Run Features, the DVD hits the streets this Tuesday, July 17, for sale, rental and probably, semi-soon, streaming, too.

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