From left, Evan Fisk, Zack Gonder and Stephanie Terasaki of Brian Brooks / Moving Company in "Closing Distance" on the outdoor stage at Jacob's Pillow through Sunday, July 25. (Photo by Jamie Kraus)
The pandemic has affected all of us in different ways – one of which was, in some cases, bringing the close closer and severing the ties of the remote.
But even before the pandemic, on its very eve, choreographer Brian Brooks seemed to foreshadow it in “Closing Distance,” a work he premiered just prior to the COVID-19 outbreak and one that tapped into the need for, but difficulty with intimacy.
The work is now onstage at Jacob’s Pillow’s outdoor stage, the Henry J. Leir. It is among three pieces, including a solo featuring Brooks that will be performed through Sunday. And though the entire program is just an hour long, as all of this year’s outdoors shows are, Brian Brooks / Moving Company demonstrated that, as an ensemble, the dancers are deeply in-tune and sensitive to each other. Together, they make for a beautiful company, for which audiences should be grateful.
To the award-winning, “Partita for 8” score by Caroline Shaw, “Closing Distance” at first seems like a scientific experiment. Dancers were bundled together moving each other in mechanical ways as the vocalist sing words “to the side” or “to the midpoint.” But the work blossoms, along with the score, into a spiritual journey with dancers Evan Fisk and Taylor LaBruzzo. She’s an unseen, powerful figure, whom with a flutter of her hand, moves Fisk, literally and figuratively. He, who hypnotized by her actions, flops and springs about, an unwitting soul who is open to the universe’s energy force.
The final section, with all eight dancers, swirling together fluidly – a band of unifying angels that signals an optimism that is a welcome sight for world-weary souls.
The program also features two world premieres – Brooks’ solo “Quiet Music,” named for a Nico Muhly piano score, and the night's opener “Flight Study.” Both, created at the Pillow during a pandemic bubble residency, were intriguing.
“Flight Study,” to music by Bryce Dessner “Aheym” as recorded by Ensemble Resonanz, had echoes of “Swan Lake,” but a prehistoric version – one where the birds fight their way out of an egg and crawl across the grass before taking off to cloud-high heights. The string music is driving, at times, and carries these creatures along a path that is gloriously transformative. And with the real birds in nature singing and the oak trees behind them swaying, “Flight Study” is a highly recommended experience – particularly in this setting.
Finally, I loved “Quiet Music.” Firstly, it’s rare to see Brooks, who is a fascinatingly emotive dancer in his own right, performing. In this work, he takes us by surprise by arriving to the stage from the center aisle of the house. Once onstage, his trajectory is back and forth, upstage to down, bringing him in and out of focus – as upstage he is silhouetted by the sun and downstage his kind face, in the trees shadow, comes into view.
Here, in the desperately tender work, he is showing the audience a wave – reaching out and retreating – shaping in our minds a way of life and death, of lost and restoration. It was a moving tribute to all of us as we continue to wrestle with the pandemic.