Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival turns 90 this summer.
What is the secret to the success of this beloved institution in the Berkshires?
This is partly due to its respect for the rich history of dance and the Pillow’s special sense of place. Anyone who has been there knows there is something magical about this rural hilltop location surrounded by hundreds of acres of wilderness.
Pamela Tatge, executive and artistic director of Jacob’s Pillow, agreed during a recent interview about the upcoming season, which begins June 22 and ends August 28.
“It’s just the magic of the place,” Tatge said. “It’s a place people call a haven, a sanctuary, a dance paradise. And I think that’s what people feel when they come to the pillow and what they’ve felt for decades. And they have passed on this passion and love for the pillow from generation to generation. And we are the beneficiaries of that loyalty and dedication to what it’s like to see dance at Jacob’s Pillow. It is unlike any other dance venue in the world.
You can feel that sense of history in the historic Ted Shawn Theater at the Pillow, where some of the world’s greatest dancers have performed on the same stage for nine decades.
But a big part of Pillow’s success also involves her ongoing commitment to pushing the boundaries of dance. The festival is not frozen in the past. Instead, it regularly presents new work from new dance companies around the world.
If you come to The Pillow every week, you know you’ll see some of the best in modern dance, ballet and tap. And for regulars who’ve been coming to The Pillow every summer for years, you’ll notice a few new changes the second you step into the Ted Shawn Theatre, which will be open to the public for the first time since the pandemic began in 2020.
“It (this summer’s 90th season) will mark the reopening of the Ted Shawn Theater, which has had a brand new stage built,” Tatge said. “This (project) has been ongoing throughout the pandemic. The scene will be deeper, wider. We will have an orchestra pit. We will have access to the stage for artists with disabilities. Most importantly, we will have air-cooling at the Ted Shawn Theater for the first time. In a post-Covid world, we have ventilation and air cooling, which is just needed and so excited to hope for. »
“I’m thrilled that people are seeing work in this space,” Tatge added. “This will be the first time we’ve been able to have 30 dancers and 15 musicians in an orchestra pit for Miami City Ballet (August 24-28), the festival’s closing program. We are very excited about this.
The first year of the pandemic in 2020, Jacob’s Pillow did what many arts organizations did that year and presented an online-only program that summer.
That same year, the Pillow also had to deal with another unexpected event – the unexpected loss of the Pillow’s Doris Duke Theater, which was destroyed by fire on November 17, 2020. Plans for the new Doris Duke Theater will be announced as planned this fall, Tatge said.
Then last summer, the Pillow only presented outdoor performances due to the ongoing pandemic. Some of the outdoor performances last summer used the Pillow’s 220 acres of land in creative ways and reinforced the Pillow’s connection to its physical surroundings, Tatge explained.
“We were forced to play away last summer,” she said. “It really allowed us to use the campus in a really inventive way. So we have three on-site works planned for this summer to continue that tradition of having traveling shows in non-traditional locations on campus.
The past two summers have also introduced the pillow to a whole new digital audience that doesn’t normally attend pillow performances.
“We’ve always had a very strong profile online through Jacob’s Pillow Dance interactive, which is our archive site, where you can see works from our past history,” Tatge said. “We have relied on this platform during the pandemic and have done full performance streams and we will continue this in 2022 and 2023 releasing a new performance stream every month between October and May. It will be a very important way to stay connected to the digital audience that discovered us during the pandemic.
Outdoor dance performances last summer on the Henry J. Leir Stage were also particularly popular, Tatge said.
“We will continue to schedule our outdoor stage, which I still believe is one of the most magnificent places to see dance in the world,” Tatge said. “The backdrop to the scene is the Berkshire hills. And we will have 10 weeks of performances on this stage, which we also had renovated, which has benches and is fully accessible.
“The lineup there (on the Henry J. Leir Outdoor Stage) includes everything from commissioned works by dancer Taylor Stanley (July 27-31) who is part of New York City Ballet, to Leonardo Sandoval Music From The Sole ( July 20-24). ),” Tatge said. “He’s a Brazilian tap dancer who really has amazing dialogue about his dance and music work.”
In the past, tickets for outdoor shows were free. This summer, paid tickets will be required for performances on the Henry J. Leir Stage. But to celebrate the festival’s 90th anniversary, up to 90 free tickets will be given away for each outdoor performance. More details will be released later this spring.
In total, more than 30 dance companies will perform this summer on the outdoor Henry J. Leir Stage and the iconic indoor Ted Shawn Theatre.
Jacob’s Pillow season kicks off with a 90th anniversary gala on June 18.
Shortly after, the season officially kicked off a few days later with a show called America(na) To Me (June 22-26).
The opening program is inspired by some of the early performances presented by Jacob’s Pillow founder Ted Shawn, featuring American folk dances.
“I turned to our two associate curators and said if you were to schedule a night of American folk dancing or typical American dancing, what would it be,” Tatge said. “They have put together a program that includes Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award winner Dormeshia. She has a tap dancing business. She’s an amazing tap artist with live music.
American dance groups will be particularly honored this summer at the Pillow. In years past, about “a quarter to a third” of the Pillow’s dance companies came from other countries, Tatge said. This summer is different partly because of the uncertainty of the ongoing pandemic.
“This summer we will only have one week in the (Ted) Shawn (Theatre) dedicated to an international company,” Tatge said. “It’s Black Grace (July 27-31) from New Zealand. This is because there were too many uncertainties related to shipping sets, processing visas and a number of things that made it difficult for international companies to tour while we are still in a pandemic period. .
“We instead choose to celebrate American dance companies that really need us to be there for them,” Tatge added. “For many (American dance companies), this will be their first public performance since the pandemic (started in 2020).”
These performances include the “world premiere of a work called ‘The Equality of Night and Day’ and it is by Ronald K. Brown/Evidence (June 29 – July 3). This has live music and a composition by Jason Moran, who is a MacArthur-winning jazz pianist.
“There are also a number of bands that we had commitments to feature in 2020 and we wanted to honor those commitments,” Tatge said. “This includes the Limon Dance Company (July 20-24) celebrating their 75th anniversary with us at The Pillow.”
“Alonzo King Lines Ballet (August 3-7) from San Francisco is coming and it happens to be their 40th so we’re happy to be there for them. It’s an amazing program. It’s a beautiful ballet-based company.
Other dance companies performing at the Ted Shawn Theater at Jacob’s Pillow this summer include:
- SW!NG OUT (July 6-10) with swing dance choreography by Caleb Teicher and live music by the Eyal Vilner Big Band.
- AIM by Kyle Abraham (July 13-17)
- Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (August 10-14)
- Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble (August 17-21)
The key to a successful season, Tatge explained, is to feature a wide array of world-class dance companies.
“I think the selection of work is really about having a gender balance — from tap to ballet and everything in between,” Tatge said. “We also want to amplify the voices of Black and Indigenous people of color and women artists. We also want to serve as an artistic home for the companies that have accompanied us over the years.
Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Becket runs from June 22 to August 28. To purchase tickets or for more information, visit jacobspillow.org or call (413) 243-0745.