High Summer in the Berkshires

by Iris Fanger

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday August 10, 2022
Originally published on August 10, 2022

Sheffield, Massachusetts
Sheffield, Massachusetts  (Source:Getty Images)

A weekend in the Berkshires, the region of verdant hills in Western Massachusetts that borders on Upstate New York, is not enough time when you consider the choices of performances at music and dance festivals, theaters and museum exhibits. From Lenox and Becket to Williamstown and beyond, a quick moving traveler can manage a taste of the treasures, perhaps even include a morning hike at The Mount, Edith Wharton's former home, or a swim in Laurel Lake.

The schedule over Aug. 4-6 included a night at Jacob's Pillow, the venerable dance festival celebrating its 90th summer; another at Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra; and two outings at Shakespeare & Company, but alas no time for a play by the Bard of its namesake. And each venue packs in more than one event daily. Bring your own meals to have at the available picnic tables or visit food vendors.

Alonzo King Lines Ballet, "Azoth"
Alonzo King Lines Ballet, "Azoth"  

First up was an evening in the Ted Shawn Theatre at Jacob's Pillow for the Aug 4. performance by Alonzo King Lines Ballet, based in San Francisco. Now in its 40th anniversary year, the company of 12 superb dancers attacked the choreography by King that featured the classical ballet vocabulary, performed at break-neck speed that pushed their bodies further into space than seemingly possible. Arms out to there, legs reaching for heaven, with an emphasis on solo turns that gave each of the dancers his/her time at center stage. Taking his cue from modern dance where the subject is the body in all its awesome qualities, King focuses on the abstract rather than the familiar notions of ballet with its fairy tale stories and characters seeking changes in their lives.

The first part of the program combined excerpts from four of King's earlier ballets. After intermission, the 45 minute-long work, "Azoth" (2019), set to music by Charles Lloyd and Jason Moran, with evocative lighting design by Jim French, combined unconnected segments with some ensemble work, but not as you remember it. Michael Montgomery and Lorris Eichinger were stand-outs in the all-star troupe. Jacob's Pillow will present different companies at its' several stages through Aug. 27.

The music shed at Tanglewood
The music shed at Tanglewood  

The next night brought a glorious performance by the full Boston Symphony Orchestra, in Tanglewood's Koussevitzky Shed, led by Earl Lee, assistant conductor of the BSO in his Tanglewood and BSO debut. In sure command of the orchestra, Lee led the musicians through Brian Raphael Nabors' "Pulse" (2017-2019), enhanced by a brief, spoken description by the composer; a vibrant attack on Poulenc's "Concerto in D minor for two pianos and orchestra" by the twins, Christina and Michelle Naughton, The pair elicited an encore from the cheering audience of a piano version of "Variations on a Theme by Paganini.".And after intermission, came Mendelssohn's "Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Opus 56, Scottish." (Note: We opted to pay for close-up seats in the Shed, but many people enjoy sitting on the lawn outside the Shed, a less costly way to attend a concert). Tanglewood continues through Sept. 5 with a mix of programs by popular and classical musicians.

Jonathan Epstein and Allyn Burrows
Jonathan Epstein and Allyn Burrows  

Two matinees at Shakespeare & Co. were by playwrights other than Shakespeare: Lee Blessing for "A Walk in the Woods," outdoors in the Roman Garden Theatre on Friday; Samuel Beckett for "All That Fall," indoors in the Tina Packer Playhouse on Saturday. Both performances were notable for the fine acting that is the trademark of the troupe, founded in 1978 by Packer. Shakespeare & Co. also hosts training programs that have produced some of the most notable actors in the business.

Blessing's two-hander dates from 1988, covering a yearlong series of discussions on nuclear negotiations between Russia and the United States.

Uncomfortably relevant today, the play stars Jonathan Epstein as the wily and weary Russian diplomat, Andrey Botvinnik, facing off against Allyn Burrows, the eager, resolute American, John Honeyman, in a splendid display of acting virtuosity by these veterans of many seasons at Shakespeare & Co. (Burrows is currently the Artistic Director of Shakespeare & Co; Epstein spends his winters at FSU/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training in Sarasota, Fl where he is Teaching Professor of Classical Performance). "A Walk in the Woods" continues through Sept. 4. Shakespeare & Company runs its' season with other productions through October 30th.

Annette Miller
Annette Miller  

A new series at Shakespeare & Co. ended this weekend with a performance of Beckett's radio play, "All That Fall," delivered by a company of actors led by Annette Miller and Nigel Gore as the elderly, long-married couple slogging their way to the grave. Miller and Gore were thoroughly connected as an ill-matched but needy two-some in unforgettable, poignant performances; younger actors made up the talented ensemble around them, well directed by Robert Egan. Unhappily, the show which was part of the experimental series, Plays in Progress, was scheduled for only four performances — an error given the strength of the performers and director, and the legacy of the playwright.

Other theaters in the region to check out include Berkshire Theatre Group, Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield and Williamstown Theatre Festival.

For more on Jacob's Pillow, Click here.

For more on Tanglewood and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Click here.

For more on Shakespeare & Co., Click here.