Kyle Marshall Choreography explores the roots of rock music

They move in bare feet, laughing, advancing — taunting a backbeat and a flash of guitar — they’re riding the music with a core strength they hold like a keynote. On the opening night of Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, five dancers from Kyle Marshall Choreography are performing Onyx, exploring the roots of rock music.

Marshall seems to sample movement as fluently as he samples music. James Brown. Tina Turner. A gospel chord of This Train goes by like a ghost, like an essence. Niara Hardister and Cayleen Del Rosario are dancing together, fast and swinging, with echoes of jazz club and all the variety in generations of Black social dance.

Niara Hardister and Cayleen Del Rosario dance together as Kyle Marshall Choreography rehearses on the Leir outdoor stage. Photo courtesy of Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival
Photo by Christopher Duggan

Niara Hardister and Cayleen Del Rosario dance together as Kyle Marshall Choreography rehearses on the Leir outdoor stage. Photo courtesy of Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival

They hold story and expression even in a flick of a hand. Bree Breeden lifts a shoulder, Niara Hardister trails her fingers, Nik Owens opens his arms and beckons, bring it.

In Marshall’s hands, they are exploring a lineage of musicians. They began the work in part in the pandemic, they explained after the performance — exploring the history of the music, hearing the people who make it.

Sometimes they learned that the version of a song they knew was not the original. Sometimes they learned the voices and lives of people new to them. Over the course of the dance, they said, each of them will invoke a musician, or more than one, building bridges, between artists from earlier generations and their own lives.

Voices weave into the sound, Little Richard talking about his role in launching a generation of 1960s musicians — the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix — and influencing all the generations since.

When Breeden walks on in a robe sparkling like the night sky, they embody Big Mama Thornton, the iconic blues and R&B vocalist who originated Hound Dog (not Elvis Presley, explains Melanie George, associate curator and director of artistic initiatives, guiding a skillful conversation after the show.)

When Hardister comes in with her hair cascading over her shoulders, she’s offering a tribute to Betty Davis, the indomitable funk and R&B songwriter and fashion designer, who performed with top musicians from Herbie Hancock to Chuck Rainey and Alphonse Mouzon and married trumpeter Miles Davis — a woman comfortable in her own body, teasing and assured.

Owens opens one hand in a glove, with a ring, tracing a line from James Brown to Michael Jackson — spins with fast footwork and open shoulders, standing firm in a tide of sound. A chaos of noise builds, a raw feeling Marshall finds at the core of rock music — a place, he said, that sometimes we need to hold space for. And then the music surges through.

Events coming up …

Find more art and performance, outdoors and food in the BTW events calendar.

Beer mugs stand on a wooden counter by a softly lit window.
Feb 21 2024 @ 3:30 pm
Hot Plate Brewing Co. will celebrate the 10×10 Festival with 10 small batches of beer — today with bingo to benefit Roots Rising and the Pittsfield Farmers Market.
Microphone. Courtesy photo (Creative Commons) by Ernest Duffoo.
Feb 21 2024 @ 7:00 pm
Dewey Hall holds storytelling events with a group discussion exploring themes, similarities and contrasts within the stories as a whole
A microphone waits in golden light. Creative Commons courtesy photo.
Feb 21 2024 @ 7:00 pm
The Egremont Barn welcomes all comers to perform on the tavern stage for a night of acoustic music in a friendly space.

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