BIFF Preview: Bill T. Jones Narrates Jacob’s Pillow Documentary, “Never Stand Still”

Filmed on location at Jacob’s Pillow and capturing some of the most famous and beloved people in dance, Never Stand Still will get a very early screening on June 4 at BIFF, the Berkshire International Film Festival. It will unspool in Great Barrington with director Ron Honsa present. The showing is scheduled for the Triplex Cinema #2 at 7:00 pm on that day. Narrated by Bill T. Jones, the inspiring film is both about dance and the many extraordinary performers who have dedicated their lives to it. It was filmed on location at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, a National Historic Landmark and America’s longest running international dance festival. www.biffma.com jacobspillow.org

(Seen in the lead photo above, Collage Dance Collective at Jacob’s Pillow. Christopher Duggan photo.)

How it Came About

In 1931, during The Great Depression, modern dance pioneer and choreographer Ted Shawn purchased an abandoned New England farm as a retreat for his company of Men Dancers – a radical idea at the time. Shawn soon began inviting dance artists from around the world to perform, and Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival was born. Today, Jacob’s Pillow is considered “the dance center of the nation” (The New York Times) and a destination for artists and audiences alike. Never Stand Still transports the viewer into a world of non-stop movement as it reveals the story of ‘the Pillow.’

“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. This mighty international dance festival captured my heart many years ago. Never Stand Still is a love letter to a rare place and the artists who dare to express the inexpressible through movement.” – Ron Honsa

THE FEATURED ARTISTS

Bill T. JonesNarrated by Bill T. Jones, Never Stand Still immerses the viewer in the world of dance through entertaining interviews with dancers and choreographers, backstage access, rare archival footage from the 1930s and 40s, and thrilling HD performances by internationally renowned dance companies including: Mark Morris Dance Group, Chunky Move (Australia), Stockholm 59° North (Sweden), Shantala Shivalingappa (India), Suzanne Farrell Ballet, Rasta Thomas’ Bad Boys of Dance, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, the Royal Danish Ballet (Denmark), Mimulus Dance Company (Brazil), Zaccho Dance Theatre, and Paul Taylor Dance Company.

Intimate and candid interviews offer personal portraits of choreographers and dancers. Suzanne Farrell, one of the greatest ballerinas in the world, recalls some of her first performances; Tony Award-winner Bill Irwin marvels at the physical humor of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton; celebrated dancer Rasta Thomas discusses his ‘bad boy’ image; former Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo star Frederic Franklin recalls the early days of the Pillow, where Joseph Pilates taught his now ubiquitous body-strengthening methods, and when “there were no ladies to be lifted;” and Mark Morris talks about his love of music and explains, “I like to say that my work — it’s not for everyone, it’s for anyone.”

Paul Taylor, Judith Jamison, Joanna Haigood, Marge Champion, Anna-Marie Holmes, Shantala Shivalingappa, Jomar Mesquita, and Nikolaj Hübbe share personal stories and views on their art form; and in one of his last filmed interviews, the late legendary choreographer Merce Cunningham reveals why dance “is not for the timid.”

THE INSPIRATION

As a young filmmaker in New York City in 1981, Never Stand Still director Ron Honsa was hired to film a dance performance at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Becket, MA. “I was struck by the beauty and intelligence of the work that was taking place at this exceptional place. I began to learn about the Pillow’s unique history and met one of its earliest dance pioneers, Barton Mumaw,” Honsa comments. This experience ultimately led to the making of Honsa’s award-winning 1985 documentary The Men Who Danced, the story of Ted Shawn, Barton Mumaw, and the first all-male dance company in America.

Honsa continues, “Never Stand Still shows the passion, discipline, and daring that is demanded of those who choose a life in dance. Perhaps this extreme love and dedication to dance can only be experienced in the mind, heart, and body of a dancer. And yet, this film is a humble attempt to document the sacrifice, talent, and unending devotion this art form demands.”

FILM CLIP

Never Stand Still
74 minutes, color, 2011
Directed by Ron Honsa
Written and Produced by Ron Honsa and Nan Penman
Cinematography by Jimmy O’Donnell and Etienne Sauret
Edited by Charles Yurick
Narrated by Bill T. Jones

NATIONAL SCREENINGS

Berkshire International Film Festival (Preview Screening), Great Barrington, MA – June 4, 2011
Dance Camera West (West Coast Premiere), Los Angeles, CA – June 19, 2011
The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Forth Worth, Texas – July 15, 2011
Williamstown Film Festival at Mass MoCA, North Adams, MA – Friday, October 28, at 8 PM in MASS MoCA’s Hunter Center

ABOUT RON HONSA

RON HONSA (Producer/Director) Ron Honsa is the Executive Director of MOVING PICTURES (www.mpny.tv) a Manhattan production company known for producing original programming and brand-driven content. The company has been recognized through the years by a wide range of industry awards, including numerous Emmys, the prestigious Peabody Award, and a DuPont Award for Broadcast Excellence. Honsa’s work has been honored with numerous awards in the International Film and TV Festival of New York, Chicago International Film Festival, American Film Festival, and Houston Film Festival.

Throughout his career, Ron Honsa has had a personal passion for producing dance for television. He directed the award-winning documentary The Men Who Danced, which has been shown on PBS stations and cable networks nationwide, and remains a mainstay of college dance programs. He has also directed television programs for Dance Theatre of Harlem, Limón Dance Company, and Savion Glover. His video work for the Balanchine Trust was profiled in The Talk of the Town by The New Yorker.

Honsa has directed well-known personalities such as Lauren Bacall, Robin Williams, Bill Moyers, Nelson Mandela, Gladys Knight, Meryl Streep, Bill Murray, Jim Nantz, Deborah Norville, Alec Baldwin, and other celebrities. Film and television production credits include: American Business at the Crossroads, The One Show, Between the Lions, Adoption, CBS Reports, Saturday Night Live, Head of State, Cadillac Man, The Fallen, True Colors, One Life to Live, Sesame Street, and Live from Lincoln Center.

ABOUT JACOB’S PILLOW:

Jacob’s Pillow began in the late 1700s as a New England farm owned by the Carter family. Knowing the Biblical story of Jacob, who laid his head upon a rock and dreamed of a ladder to heaven, the Carters aptly named a large boulder on the property “Jacob’s Pillow.” In the 1800s, Jacob’s Pillow played a role in American history as a station on the Underground Railroad for slaves escaping to Canada. In 1931, modern dance pioneer Ted Shawn bought the farm as a retreat. At that time, Shawn and his wife, Ruth St. Denis, were America’s leading dance couple. Their Denishawn Company had popularized a new dance form rooted in theatrical and ethnic traditions rather than those of European ballet. Shawn and St. Denis served as major influences on many important dance figures who performed in their company, including Martha Graham, Jack Cole, and Doris Humphrey. But they soon separated, personally and professionally, and in the fall of 1931, Shawn conducted the last rehearsals of the Denishawn era at Jacob’s Pillow.

Shawn had long harbored a dream of legitimizing dance in America as an honorable profession for men. In 1933, he recruited eight men, including Denishawn dancer Barton Mumaw and several physical education students from Springfield College–then a men’s school–for his new company. The tall and burly Shawn and his athletic dancers were intent on challenging the image of men in dance; they forged a new, boldly muscular style in dances celebrating Pawnee braves, toiling sharecroppers, and Union machinists.

The Men Dancers began to perform for the public in 1933, and the Pillow’s programming expanded to encompass other artists after the Men’s company disbanded in 1940. Despite wartime hardships, such as gasoline and tire rationing, audiences climbed the hill on foot and horseback to attend a wide array of programs: ballet, modern dance, mime, ballroom, folk, and classical dance of many cultures. In 1942 the Ted Shawn Theatre opened, built by architect Joseph Franz as the first theatre in the U.S. designed specifically for dance. Throughout the intervening seven decades, Jacob’s Pillow has continued in Shawn’s trail-blazing spirit, presenting emerging artists and acclaimed dance companies from around the world. In its 79-season history Jacob’s Pillow has presented such distinguished artists as Alvin Ailey, Alicia Alonso, Nina Ananiashvili, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Pina Bausch, Merce Cunningham, Margot Fonteyn, Savion Glover, Cynthia Gregory, Gregory Hines, Judith Jamison, Bill T. Jones, Carmen de Lavallade, José Limón, Mark Morris, Ann Reinking, Antony Tudor, Paul Taylor, Twyla Tharp, Edward Villella, and literally thousands of others.

In the twenty-first century, Jacob’s Pillow has been celebrated with noteworthy distinctions. In 2003, the federal government named Jacob’s Pillow a National Historic Landmark for its importance in America’s culture and history, thus distinguishing the Pillow as the country’s first and only Landmark dance institution. In 2007, the Pillow was formally dedicated as a site on the Upper Housatonic Valley African American Heritage Trail, which celebrates people and places that hold pivotal roles in key events of African American heritage. On March 2, 2011, Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival received a National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama at the White House, becoming the first dance presenter to receive this prestigious honor.

One thought on “BIFF Preview: Bill T. Jones Narrates Jacob’s Pillow Documentary, “Never Stand Still”

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