BWW Reviews: CARMEN DE LAVALLADE Doesn't Rest at JACOBS PILLOW
There is a powerful vibration that pierces all of your senses as you explore the grounds of Jacobs Pillow. Tucked away in the Berkshires of Becket, Massachusetts, the location is as scenic as it is sacred.
As you walk down the graveled pathways, you cannot help but feel the presence of the dance greats who once performed there. The air is thick with memories of Barysgnikov, Limón, Ailey, Holder and of course De Lavallade.
De Lavallade at age 83, holds the record for the longest Jacobs Pillow dancing career since her debut there with the Lester Horton Dance Theater in 1953. So, what better place to host the world premiere of her one woman show than at Jacobs Pillow.
She carefully titles her autobiographical venture As I Remember it, because it is just that, how she remembers it. The three day limited engagement was a sold out event. Directed by Joe Grifasi and co written by Talvin Wilks, it's a mixture of childhood tales, memories of dancing triumphs and struggles with the likes of Lester Horton, Alvin Ailey and John Butler. It includes Shakespearean monologues and poetry.
The set designed by Mimi Lien was simple consisting of a padded bench and a wooden chair, which De Lavallade holds a minute long crutch pose with no shaking. Images from her past are projected onto a harp shaped fringe curtain. She dances along with her younger self in a section from her performance in John Butlers unforgettable piece Portrait of Billie (Holiday.) The moment is a carefully crafted exploration of Billie's struggle with heroin addiction, still clinging onto her image as "Lady Day." Ms. De Lavallade begins a series of movements, scratching at her arms, she slumps over rubbing at her veins all while trying to find her image again by stroking the iconic Holiday Gardenia which decorates her hair. It's an imagine as powerful as it is painful.
She ends her show with a excerpt from a 15th century poem by writer François Villon...
"This is how we discuss
ourselves, and nurse desire
here as we gab about
the past, boneless as wool
dolls by a greenwood fire--
soon lit, and soon put out.
Once I was beautiful...
That's how it goes with us."
Of course when she delivers the line "Once I was beautiful" you can feel tension growing in the room as you wait for a brave viewer to shout out "YOU STILL ARE." Instead, you allow De Lavallade to examine the moment and watch as she weighs the words she bravely declared.
When you leave the theater, you realize you are in love with Carmen De Lavallade. Not for her undeniable beauty which is a combination of an ethereal allure and regality, but for her passion. The discussions leading up to Ms. De Lavalledes performances were met with shock when her age was mentioned "At 83 she still" or "At 83 she is." Age need not be a discussion when it comes to art. It's the passion that should be examined. There is no doubt De Lavallade has the same passion as a storyteller and a dancer as she did when she was 19. Her journey is one that should be a lesson to all artists across the board.
When an inquisitive youngster toys with the idea of a career in the arts and they ask "What does it take to be great?" The answer should be "Look at Carmen De Lavallade."
Jacobs Pillow Festival will continue its festivities until August 24th. For more information visit http://www.jacobspillow.org/ to be part of this remarkable experience.