Tero Saarinen’s Borrowed Light: A Luminous Evening of Dance at Jacob’s Pillow
What better test of a dance that has blown you away than to see it again a few years later and find out if it still packs the same power? Happily, the lasting impression left by Tero Saarinen’s luminous work Borrowed Light, first performed at the Pillow in 2006, is only reinforced by repeat viewing. This perfect piece in which all elements – choreography, music, lighting, set, costume, and performance (by both dancers and singers) – work together to create a stunning, beautiful evening of dance more than merits it return engagement during the Festival’s 80th anniversary season.
Borrowed Light has particular resonance in this region, inspired as it is by Shaker culture and spirituality. But don’t go expecting to see some modified version of Shaker dances. Beyond the score of Shaker songs magisterially and movingly performed live by The Boston Camerata, what Saarinen has taken from the Shakers is not explicit but implied: a pervading sense of austerity, reverence, determination, devotion, and isolation. Woven throughout are moments of doubt and leaps of faith, powerfully conveyed through movement – both quiet and thrashing – posture, and subtle facial expression—mostly stern or troubled.
On a white stage, a simple set of black risers and barriers closes off the wings. In this enclosed space, which magically can seem both expansive with the full ensemble dancing and claustrophobic during a solo, the only way out is to ascend. The performers wear black, with subtle bits of white peeking out – a petticoat here, a pleat there. The movement is grounded in the dancers’ clunkily clod feet; they often drag a foot behind in asymmetric steps, as if hobbled or crippled. The women’s postures, especially, suggest burden, with shoulders slightly rounded and rolled forward; they contract, bent over, then expand in sweeping, arcing movements, opening their arms, chests, and faces to the sky. In the spaces between songs, the dancers create their own rhythms, stomping and clapping, with the singers sometimes joining in, suggesting folk dances that sometimes wind up into a frenzy.
It’s a rare piece that so successfully blends not just the music with the dance, but also the singers with the dancers. For much of the piece the singers stand on risers, looking on, and traveling along those risers on the stage’s periphery, but they also frequently join in the action, milling about the stage – or the dancers join the singers on the risers, so that it can be difficult to distinguish the two sets of performers (but for the flowing skirts and tunics on the dancers versus the streamlined costumes of The Camerata). Both sets of performers share a solid, somber, self-contained presence.
As befits the title, the lighting is a big part of the production – beams of light cut through stage smoke on diagonals from above, or straight down from overhead spots, or straight across from the side. At certain points the singers, lit from above, with their unbearably beautiful voices – as a group or solo – seem like angels, guiding the dancers through inner turmoil; at other times they seem to look down from above in judgment. The ending, with one woman dragging herself in those odd, off-kilter steps through the dense, dark stage space, is pure redemption. Don’t wait another six years to see this masterwork.
Borrowed Light at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival
Tero Saarinen Company and The Boston Camerata
In the Ted Shawn Theatre
Through Sunday, July 15