Tag Archives: Bill Irwin

‘Great Performances’ celebrates the dancer and the dance in ‘Jacob’s Pillow’

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Kellye Saunders of Collage Dance Collective
Veteran filmmaker Ron Honsa visits a sanctuary for professionals who speak through their movement in Dancing at Jacob’s Pillow: Never Stand Still, which celebrates the courage, the passion and the tremendous discipline required of those who dedicate their life to dance. Airing under the Great Performances aegis, the hourlong special, which premieres tonight on most PBS affiliates (check local listings), intersperses dancers in live performances filmed at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival with interviews ranging from Suzanne Farrell, choreographer George Balanchine’s reigning ballerina for many years, to actor-comic-mime Bill Irwin and iconic dance figures Paul Taylor and Judith Jamison, as well as archival comments by visionary dance pioneer Ted Shawn.
It was Shawn who founded Jacob’s Pillow in the 1930s on his farm in the beautiful Berkshires region of Western Massachusetts – and when I say “founded,” I mean it in the sense that Shawn and his troupe, America’s first all-male dance company, built the original facility with their own hands. Since then, Jacob’s Pillow has served as a mecca for both artists and audiences who are hungry to explore dance in all its forms, ranging from ballet to jazz to contemporary, along the way becoming the only dance presenter to receive the prestigious National Medal of Arts.
Among the delightful and very candid interviewees, maverick choreographer Mark Morris – who made a reputation even from the start as an iconoclast who often gravitated toward dancers who didn’t fit the romanticized physical ideal of ballet performers – talks about the quirky sensibility that lies at the root of his artistic vision, while the radiant Farrell adamantly insists that one of the most important aspects of any dance is that it should be fun, adding that ballet is no more inherently straightlaced and rigid than the imagination and whimsy of choreographers allow it to be.
Honsa, who has picked up awards for this film at the San Francisco Dance Festival and the Dance Camera West Festival in Los Angeles, first visited the Jacob’s Pillow festival in the early 1980s, when he immediately was struck by the beauty and caliber of the work being created there. Those impressions eventually found their way into a 1985 film called The Men Who Danced, about Shawn and his groundbreaking company.
Of this new documentary, which is making its TV debut on Great Performances, Honsa says, “From the youngest dancers in this film to the legendary masters, it was obvious to me that a deep and creative vibration has always resonated at Jacob’s Pillow. Never Stand Still is a love letter to a rare place and the artists who dare to express the inexpressible through movement.”
Very highly recommended.
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Erica Eissner Performance Co-Op

Kelley’s heroes

The departure of Fox’s House last spring from the primetime schedule has left room for a new medical drama that uses its hospital setting as more than a backdrop for soapy sex (yes, Grey’s Anatomy, I’m looking at you), and Monday Mornings, a new TNT series from David E. Kelley premiering tonight, is hoping to be just what the doctor ordered.
If only this prescription didn’t feel quite so generic.
Set at a fictional hospital in Portland, Ore., the new series takes its title from the facility’s weekly morbidity and mortality conference, at which chief of staff Dr. Harding Hooten (Alfred Molina, sporting an odd Linda Hunt hairstyle) leads a confidential review of the past week’s errors and complications in patient care. As you might expect, it’s not a lighthearted gathering, and Hooten’s unwelcome attention can shift at any moment to any member of his staff, which includes gifted but impetuous neurosurgeon Dr. Tyler Wilson (Jamie Bamber, Battlestar Galactica); his supportive colleague Dr. Tina Ridgeway (Jennifer Finnigan, Close to Home); insensitive transplant specialist Dr. Buck Tierney (Bill Irwin, who played the Dick & Jane serial killer on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation); and the brilliant but socially inept Dr. Sung Park (Keong Sim, Glee), whose shaky bedside manner is further undercut by a woeful command of English. The strong ensemble also includes Ving Rhames as trauma chief Dr. Jorge Villanueva and Sarayu Rao and Emily Swallow (Southland) as other staff members.
As creator and/or executive producer of such past water cooler shows as Picket Fences, Chicago Hope, Ally McBeal, The Practice and Boston Legal, Kelley developed a reputation for storytelling that blends compelling drama with quirky character comedy, but based on the three preview episodes TNT provided to TV writers, he’s playing things perfectly straight here – understandable, given that these characters are dealing with, literally, matters of life and death. But who are these characters, exactly?
Bamber’s warmth and nice-guy appeal keeps Dr. Wilson from being a hotshot-in-scrubs cliché, but so far, it’s hard to understand why a doctor who is so patient-focused that he literally is haunted by a child who died in his care is also prone to making high-handed judgment calls that even a casual viewer will recognize as ethical red flags, and Finnigan’s supposedly brilliant Dr. Ridgeway overlooks a major medical factor in one surgery that threatens the promising career of her patient, then compounds the error by entrusting the procedure to a young resident who never before has performed that operation. No doubt we’ll get a better handle on these medics as the series unfolds but already Monday Mornings seems to be settling into a seen-it-before formula that is a little worrisome.
Even more troubling is Dr. Park’s shockingly weak communication skills, which have him spouting what approaches pidgin English to his patients (“Not do, die!” he tells one girl who is reluctant to have a procedure). Is this supposed to be funny? I’m honestly not sure, and I also notice his command of English seems to vary conveniently based on the demands of any given scene.
All that said, I’m hoping Monday Mornings can pull itself together and become the medical drama TV could really use right now. There are no obvious weak links anywhere in the cast, and I especially hope Kelley and his team can find a way to use Irwin – a dazzling actor who can handle both comedy and drama with virtuoso ease – to maximum effect.
At present, however, prognosis for this series is inconclusive.