Familiarly known as props, the more formal term of “stage properties” (or theatrical properties) covers all kinds of objects used in performance. Props can take on a crucial role in the bare-bones world of concert dance, where they are often used sparingly and strategically—thus commanding the audience’s focus.
Under Momentum, 2018
It’s a controversial choice to lead off this Playlist with Kinetic Light, as Alice Sheppard considers her wheelchair to be embodied technology rather than an external device which might be used by anyone as a “prop.” But another essential element here are the ramps—opening up a debate about the difference between a prop and a set piece. One thing that’s not debatable is the impact of the performance itself, and how stunning it looked in the Perles Family Studio, where bad weather necessitated its move from Inside/Out.
These two brief clips from a full-evening work are loaded with props—a creepy marionette, binding tape, and a hand-held propeller. All were part of a dream-like work which one critic lauded for its “powerful images.”
33 Fainting Spells
Our Little Sunbeam, 2004
The manipulated objects in this clip are microphones—which are needed to put across this full-evening work’s text. The source material included Chekhov stories and transcripts of astronauts’ conversations in space.
CoisCéim Dance Theatre
The piles of papers manipulated by these dancers evoked the impossible challenges faced by the Irish people during their country’s great famine of 1845. Ballads was seen at the Pillow in the company’s U.S. debut.
The Pauliteiros of Cércio, 1988
This dance was presented as part of a “festival within a festival” known as “The Roots of Creole,” with related presentations all over the Pillow grounds. The sticks used by these dancers are reminiscent of Scotland’s sword dances, and they share the same Celtic roots.
"Wade in the Water" from Revelations, 1988
Here’s the iconic white umbrella from Revelations, along with bolts of fabric symbolizing bodies of water—truly evocative props that are integral components of the dance.
Carmina Burana, Side II, 1985
The incorporation of both everyday and unusual objects is virtually a trademark for Pilobolus, seen here with a novel use of human-sized canisters.
Johan Renvall & Madeleine Onne
Little Improvisations, 1983
As the title indicates, this dance is a series of seemingly improvised scenes in which a simple piece of cloth is inventively used in a variety of ways. The music is Schumann’s Kinderscenen, or “Scenes from Childhood.”
Charles Moulton Dance Company
A landmark in the development of post-modern dance, Charles Moulton’s Precision Ball Passing was created in 1979 and shown at the Pillow in a different version two years later. This was the year before Jacob’s Pillow began its ongoing video documentation program, so this clip is a rare treasure.
José Limón Dance Company
The Moor's Pavane, 1951
Part of the genius of José Limón’s distillation of Othello is the way he makes the handkerchief a central “character” in the story. Here this iconic prop makes one last appearance in the final moments of the dance.
Reggie Wilson / Fist & Heel Performance Group, Lori Belilove & The Isadora Duncan Dance Company featuring Sara Mearns, Erick Hawkins Dance Company, Bill Irwin + 12 others
"Mourner's Bench" from Southern Landscape, 1948
Stage prop or set piece? However you look at it, the bench is a central element in this section of Talley Beatty’s Southern Landscape, known as “Mourner’s Bench.” And it’s easy to recognize the site where this film was shot—the Pillow’s landmark Tea Garden.