Monday, June 18, 2007

Pillow Posts -- 6/18/07

Gala is finally over! We worked from 9AM Saturday to 2:30AM Sunday, and we still had a full day of cleanup to do once we all woke up again on Sunday. That should give you some idea of the magnitude of the event, so you can appreciate that we're all very glad to have made it to the (comparatively) stress-free regular festival season. Also, I am going to skip numbering the days of my posts since I can't for the life of me remember what day it is now, and I'm too lazy to calculate from previous posts, especially since the day of the post doesn't always correspond to the day it was posted.

This post is mainly going to be a wrap-up of the Gala event. The event was broken up into two major parts: an event which occurred outdoors and two events occurring indoors. The indoor event was a variety show in the Ted Shawn Theatre, for which I worked deck crew. I didn't really get to see much because I was in the wings backstage, but I could hear and see enough.

The first act was the premiere of a new work by Yuri Possokhov, performed by the Ballet School here at Jacob's Pillow. We bring in high-caliber dancers for 2-3 week school sessions taught by illustrious faculty all throughout the summer, and these particular students were lucky enough to get to perform in the Ted Shawn. I loved the piece--it was fast-paced, humorous, and creative; every time Yuri used a common choreographic element, he would follow it with a twist on that element that I usually hadn't seen anyone do before. The audience loved it too--the dancers received thunderous applause.

The second act was a duet by the State Ballet of Georgia (the country, not the state). It featured their two principal dancers, and it was absolutely stunning. The talent of the two dancers made the ballet school students, many of whom dance professionally, look nearly amateurish by comparison. The male dancer jumped high enough to dunk on an NBA basket, and you could feel the reverberations of his takeoffs and landings through the wooden floor, and probably throughout the theatre. The woman was also excellent; at one point in the dance she walks out on stage and proceeds to spin in circles at high speed for about a minute; all of the crew were totally floored.

The third act was supposed to be the video whose screen caused so much trouble, but after all that work, the video projector crapped out and we couldn't show it. A lot of folks were rather unhappy about that.

The third act was instead Rennie Harris, who is the father of hip-hop as a choreographed art form. I couldn't see his dance very well because it contained many small, quick movements that were best viewed from the front, but I heard that he and his dancers performed some amazing stunts with various parts of their bodies, including at one point, Rennie dancing with his jaw, which he was somehow able to isolate and move in ways that no one had ever seen a jaw move before. They also received thunderous applause.

The fourth act was Bill Irwin (look him up on Wikipedia if you don't know who he is), whose performed a piece that was part hip-hop, part clowning, and part ballet. Because of the clowning element, a lot of the piece was invisible to me because he worked with facial expressions and hand gestures, but I could tell the audience was enjoying it, because they kept on laughing. Bill Irwin, incidentally, is an incredibly nice man; he kept his dressing room clean, he was happy to chat with the stage crew after the performance, and he made a point of eating in the dining hall with the rest of us so that he could meet people.

The last act was the performance of two solos by dancers from the Alvin Ailey company. This piece was a little bit special: because Ailey went to school at the Pillow and because Revelations, one of the company's signature pieces, premiered at the Pillow, having the Ailey company perform at the 75th anniversary was an important event. Because the performance, was meant to emphasize the continuing importance of the Pillow, somebody decided it would be great to open the back doors of the Shawn theatre to show off the natural surroundings of the festival. However, getting those doors open is no easy task. We used lit backdrops for all the other pieces in the program, and because we are in a barn, and have no space to fly an entire backdrop into the air, we had to do something else. In order to solve the problem, we created a sequence that was nearly as choreographed as some of the dances.

First, we closed the main curtain so no one could see what we were doing; Judith Jamison, artistic director of Alvin Ailey, made a speech, which we used to cover our noise. Next, we dropped the two pieces of fabric which made up the backdrop onto the floor. Three people fed in the ropes to drop them, and two others made sure that the fabric folded nicely and didn't catch on anything. We used carabineers to attach the pipes the fabric was hanging on to our ropes. Once the fabric was on the ground, we quickly unclipped the carabineers and the people who fed in the rope pulled the dangling ropes out of sight of the audience. While this was happening, two people were unfolding a long piece of black fabric to cover the white fabric of the backdrop while it was on the ground, and two others had unlocked and were pushing open the giant barn doors. As people finished their various jobs, they then changed the colors in the side lights to the colors requested by the Ailey company.

We had only rehearsed the whole sequence once, but it went smoothly, and by the time Ms. Jamison finished her speech, the goods were dropped and the door was open. In fact, we had a minute to spare. The audience applauded the open doors when we pulled back the main curtain, and that was the best applause of the night, because it was all for the backstage crew. You don't see our performances, but you see the effects of them.

The Ailey pieces were both beautiful, and I would love to watch more shows by the company. That was my last job of the night, except for operating a confetti drop, which mainly involves pulling a string.

The outdoor events were more varied. There was a giant tent, of which you will see pictures soon, filled with lighting instruments and chandeliers. The banquet was held there, and there was a big band playing music, and a high-priced auction held by a Christie's auctioneer. There was also a drumming ensemble, and before the Ted Shawn show started, a woman named Nanine Linning did a performance which featured her hanging upside down from a chandelier, dancing and pouring bottles of champagne. Her show caused the most problems; she never received her foot straps from her homeland in the Netherlands, so we had to construct some for her to use. Then, we had a big afternoon thunderstorm, and the whole event had to be moved inside--quickly. No one was sure if it would even happen, but eventually they got her up in the air, and it sounds like she was well-received. I hear she was rather scantily-clad, so that probably helped.

Anyway, that ridiculously-long post covers most of what I know about the Gala. Now I'm just going to post a few pictures of the event so you can see the tent in all its glowing glory.

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This is what the tent looked like midway through the week. Library - 160.jpg
And this is a moth that was hanging out on a screen earlier this week. I thought it was cool, so I snapped a picture.

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