Boston's Wondertwins And 'Unreal Hip-Hop' Are Among Jacob's Pillow Festival Attractions

Billy and Bobby McClain, AKA The Wondertwins. (Sophie Browne Photography. )
Billy and Bobby McClain, AKA The Wondertwins. (Sophie Browne Photography. )

Movement comes in many forms, but dancers of all styles share at least one thing in common: their motivation. They rehearse for hours on end every day to perform, to experience the feeling of invincibility that a stage offers.

From the tradition of classical ballet to rhythmic hip-hop, dance is a form of self-expression, an escape from reality. Though dancers share in the desire to communicate through music and movement, those studying different techniques rarely unite in the same space. However, the arrival of summer means the beginning of the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, where, for the 82nd year, dance companies from around the world will perform at the national historic landmark in Becket, Mass.

The world-renowned festival will host more than 350 events, starting with an opening gala June 14 and culminating in a final celebration on the weekend of Aug. 23. This season, ticketed performances will feature companies from China, Italy, Australia, Brazil and across the United States. Free outdoor performances will be offered as well with a view of the Berkshire Hills replacing the typical stage backdrop.

One of the groups is Boston-based hip-hop duo Billy and Bobby McClain (aka The Wondertwins). On June 25-29, they will pop and lock alongside all-female crew Decadancetheatre and b-girl Ephrat “Bounce” Asherie in an exclusive Pillow presentation, “Unreal Hip-Hop.”

Here they are in last year's "Moments of Fire":

The McClains, identical twins, grew up in Boston and were only 10 when they were asked to join The Funk Affects, the city’s first professional street dance crew. Seven years later, the brothers became The Wondertwins, and have since performed with stars like Bobby Brown, Apollonia, Queen Latifah and MC Hammer, among others. Even with this impressive background, however, they describe being selected to perform at Jacob’s Pillow as “unreal.”

“Jacob’s Pillow represents exactly what dance expression is all about,” says Bobby. Billy continues, “It's not only about the stage, it's about the iconic choreographers and companies that have been on the stage since the very beginning.” For The Wondertwins, inspiration stems from past performers — Bill Robinson, Michael Jackson, Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire, to name a few.

Offstage, the McClains share this inspiration with students. In addition to teaching dance in Boston public schools for the past 17 years, the brothers are also directors for Project RISE, a nonprofit performing arts summer camp where they work with children of low-income families from Massachusetts. “We get the students as early as second grade and guide them through their high school years,” Billy explains.

Bobby and Billy McClain, AKA The Wondertwins. (Sophie Browne Photography. )
Bobby and Billy McClain, AKA The Wondertwins. (Sophie Browne Photography. )

Like The Wondertwins, the festival at Jacob’s Pillow encourages an appreciation for dance in many ways beyond performance. Visitors may also participate in a variety of community events including talks, films, tours and classes. For its positive influence on the arts in the United States, the festival received the National Medal of Arts in 2010.

Jacob’s Pillow is America’s longest-running international dance festival, but what truly separates it from others is the diversity of styles and cultures of its performers. The Wondertwins are Boston natives, but others have far greater distances to travel. This season will also feature the classical artistry of the Hong Kong Ballet, the lively tapping of New York’s Dorrance Dance, the circus-like feats of Australia’s Circa, the modern technique of the Mark Morris Dance Group, and much more.

The style of movement may change according to culture or preference, but Jacob’s Pillow demonstrates that dance affects everyone everywhere. “Dance is not just the act of moving to music,” Bobby says, “Dance is simplicity. Dance is theater. Dance is acting. Dance is not moving at all.”


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