On the larger Ted Shawn Theatre stage, meanwhile, a different type of legacy was being played out. Bill Coleman and his wife, Laurence Lemieux, had come to the Pillow from Montreal for a choreographic residency last spring. During a trip to the Pillow archives, they were intrigued by a film of The Dome, a series of “musical visualizations” to Bach that Ted Shawn created for his Men Dancers in the mid 1930s. The work hadn’t been performed since 1940. When you look at Shawn’s choreography today, its simple geometric forms and heroic gestures can seem simpleminded, but Coleman and Lemieux had the idea to reset excerpts from the work for a group of seven children who would include two of their own kids.
From the moment the curtain went up on these very young performers kneeling in their white leotards, The Dome seemed rejuvenated: the dance not simplistic but fresh and unadorned, the central adult figure (Sasha Ivanochko, dancing with a clear sense of subtext) less Papa Shawn the Guru surrounded by his disciples and more a vision of the skilled performer some of these children might grow up to be. The Dome includes a procession to the chorale “Jesu bleibet meine Freude” (“Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring”) where the children walk in a line looking upward, with softly cupped hands. One remembered, suddenly, that Shawn had started out as a seminarian. Dance was nothing less than his church.
Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie also brought a sampler of works by their countryman James Kudelka, who choreographed Boston Ballet’s 2005 Art Deco Cinderella. See #1 is a star turn for Lemieux “partnered” by a centerstage Mark Ferris playing Heinrich von Biber’s Passacaglia for Solo Violin. Part of a longer series — See #3 is projected as a “solo for two men” — this piece doesn’t quite do it on its own. Obsessively tracing a square around the musician, Lemieux seems to be cajoling a distant companion. Rebuffed, she redirects her reaching hand back to smooth her hair.
Soudain, l’hiver dernier (“Suddenly, Last Winter”), a Kudelka piece from 1987, explores similar “broken record” obsessions. Set to Gavin Bryars’s “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet” (a stuttering chant drenched in string-orchestra molasses that I’d like to ban from dance concerts until at least 2025), it has two men facing off in arm-wrestling embraces. Andrew Giday moves away, but a still Ryan Boorne magnetizes him and draws him back. Soudain, l’hiver dernier is a dance of same-sex claustrophobia.
Kudelka is only a little cheerier in his 1991 Fifteen Heterosexual Duets, which he set to Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata. How are heterosexual couples different from the gay men in Soudain? Well, when they’re not doing standard-issue ballet in pointe shoes, the women get lifted in the air. A lot. Kudelka spends Beethoven’s noble measures tangling the couples into complicated knots just to wrangle them out. He finds endless ways to get the women onto the men’s shoulders so they can perch or preen or lie luxuriantly backward. The dancers — especially go-for-broke Kate Alton and Peter Trosztmer as he squabbled with Ivanochko — had Kudelka’s acrobatic moves comfortably in their bodies, but the sentiments? Completely retro.