Digital dance in David Roussève/Reality's Stardust at Jacob's Pillow
BECKET -- A few years ago, David Roussève noticed his UCLA students were distracted by their phones. The dancer and choreographer responded by creating a piece about "what it means that all their relationsips are mediated by technology," he said.
Ironically, he is now more addicted to texting than any of his students are, he said, but that initial seed has now grown into Stardust, a dance show that premiered in January and will come to Jacob's Pillow Aug. 6 to 10.
Stardust tells the story of a black gay adolescent named Junior who starts texting a random phone number his life story because he has been unable to find anyone to talk to about it. He is bullied and lonely, and texting gives him an outlet.
"Before, it was really about the limits of technology, and now it's also about its possibilities," Roussève said. "He's ostracized from his African American religious community because he's gay, and it's been replaced by technology."
To tell this story, Roussève has paired dancing by Reality with Junior's text messages projected on a screen behind the dancers. Junior himself never actually appears on stage.
"Can we tell a story that's emotionally potent through technology without the character being seen?" asked Roussève.
To do this, they pair the texts, which tell the story in his words, with dance that is meant to represent his emotions and internal life.
The hope, said Ella Baff, artistic director of Jacob's Pillow, is that audiences can have an "emotionally connecting experience even though the character may not be one they've ever experienced before. But his stories and his dilemmas and what he talks about are very universal feeling."
Roussève said to some extent the piece itself is also a metaphor for its content: Technology represents a huge opportunity to connect with someone, but it also represents major challenges. That includes the technical difficulties of showing the texts with different projectors at different theaters.
The technology allows the dance to be much larger and more physical, he said.
"It's very difficult to categorize [Reality]," Baff said. "It's not a regular dance company and it's not really a theatre company. It's really a merging of dance and theatre. There's usually lots of speaking."
"What become frustrating about that," Roussève said, "Is that, if it's a dance piece, everything sort of grinds to a halt while someone comes on and speaks."
Using written text like in Stardust allows for language and dance to coexist.
"Not having to stop the dancing whenever we wanted a text meant the movement could be bigger," he said. "That opened up a lot of movement possibilities."
Roussève found his ability to choreograph growing, in part because for the first time in a Reality show, he does not perform lead.
"There's a certain amount of emotional trauma of pulling myself off the stage," he said, "but it's been exhilerating. It's felt like I've been able to really carve the piece without worrying about my role in it at all."
Roussève still dances one solo in the performance, which he chose to dance himself because it is an older style of dance than most of his troupe is used to. He dances to one of the show's Nat King Cole songs, which stand in opposition to a set of modern hiphop songs composed specifically for "Stardust."
"One of the ongoing themes is oldschool versus newschool," he said. "My solo is very oldschool in its musicality."
These represent two worlds in the show, the romantic, smooth Nat King Cole of Junior's grandfather, with whom Junior lives, and Junior's own edgier hiphop.
Stardust is part of "Weekend Out at Jacob's Pillow," Friday to Sunday, Aug. 8-10, an annual weekend at the Pillow centered around welcoming LGBTQ individuals, couples and families to the festival. The Gay and Lesbian Review sponsors the weekend.
"In looking around the Berkshires and our audience, we thought that it looked awfully straight," Baff said of the past few years. "We've really worked hard to make it more culturally diverse and try to make it friendly for people who might think it's a place for straight, white people when it's actually not."
Stardust has become part of Weekend Out, Baff said, not only because Roussève a gay man.
"He's really articulate in talking about art in general" she said. "He's a noted professor. So I know when we do an after-show talk with him, and he'd be able to talk about specific issues relating to that community."
Baff and Roussève both also emphasized that while the show deals with serious subject matter, it also is entertaining.
"Entertainment/engagingness became a negative in dance when people realized all the different things that dance could do," Roussève said. "Some things that came out of vogue in modern dance-- like dancing to the music and commercial music -- I missed those things."
If you go ...
What: David Roussève/Reality in Stardust
Where: Doris Duke Theatre, Jacob's Pillow, 358 George Carter Road, Becket
When: 8:15 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 6 to Saturday, Aug. 9
2:15 p.m. Saturday Aug. 9, Sunday Aug. 10
Admission: $22 to $35
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