Jacob’s Pillow: Perennial favorites, glimpses of something new

'Pillow fans aren’t just fans, they are 100 percent devoted to the place'
Jessica Lang Dance is at Jacob's Pillow from July 5-9.
Jessica Lang Dance is at Jacob's Pillow from July 5-9.

BECKET, Mass. — The Berkshires are a haven for dance, music and art lovers.

There’s the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Tanglewood, the Williams College Museum, etc. But, for dance enthusiasts, there’s nothing quite like Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival.

Every summer people from across the country head to the rolling hills and forestland of Becket, Massachusetts, for the festival, which takes place this year from June 21 to Aug. 27. As the longest-running dance festival in the United States — going on 85 years — it’s garnered a reputation for bringing in some of the biggest events in the dance world.

It’s a reputation that Pamela Tatge has been careful in maintaining as she directs the festival for the first time this year.

“Pillow fans aren’t just fans. They are 100 percent devoted to the place,” Tatge said.

Her research in finding the right performers and dance companies for the Pillow took her to dance festivals in Israel, France, Cuba and New York City.

Tatge wanted to add a mix of new dance companies to the festival’s lineup along with the traditional companies that remain mainstays for the festival.

“We have a history of presenting premier ballet companies here, so we’re bookending our season, opening with Miami City Ballet and closing with Washington Ballet,” Tatge said.

The Pillow is slated to feature favorites like Paul Taylor Dance Company, Trisha Brown Dance Company and Pilobolus. But Pillow fans will get a glimpse of new dancers and works as well.

“I wanted to also bring work that Pillow audiences had never seen before from companies that I love. . . . Two of those companies are Compagnie Marie Chouinard from Canada and the other is Faye Driscoll,” Tatge said.

Chouinard will present “24 Preludes by Chopin” and “Henri Michaux: Mouvements.” Faye Driscoll, who attended the School at Jacob’s Pillow, is slated to bring a mix of dance and musical theater to the lineup.

Later this month, an evening of tap dance will be curated by tap artist Michelle Dorrance in a performance featuring live music. The performance, called “Tireless,” is the first of its kind for the festival. Dorrance will also be hosting an all-styles dance battle on July 2, which will bring together festival artists, New England-based street artists and other Pillow dancers.

“We’re investing in new work for the Pillow, starting with a major commission from Pilobolus which will happen on our outdoor stage to a new work created by choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa for Ballet Hispanico,” Tatge said.

This season, the backdrop of the Berkshire Hills will also serve as an intentional backdrop for two performances.

“We’re using the site of Jacob’s Pillow in innovative ways,” Tatge said. Pilobolus’ commissioned work, which includes “On the Nature of Things,” will incorporate the natural backdrop of the Pillow’s campus into the program. Eiko Otake, a Japanese-American artist will present a moveable work across the Pillow on June 22.

“It will begin in one point on our site and will take audiences to a different point on our site, so that they will perhaps discover a corner, a vista, a tree that they’ve never noticed on our site before,” Tatge said.

Beyond the performances, there are exhibits, Pillow Talks and community dance classes.

The Pillow Talks will feature choreographers, dancers, dance photographers and other artists. One talk that Tatge recommends everyone attend is a celebration of the Pillow’s founder: Ted Shawn.

“It’s very important to remember that we’re only here because he had a vision that dance could happen in this part of the country,” Tatge said.

Three Shawn experts will be speaking on July 14, the official anniversary of the Pillow.

Community events also speckle the summer season, including several Sunday film events, free Friday classes and a dog dance event.

“The other thing that people don’t realize is that we have daily classes here where anyone can come and try an African dance class or a ballet class.

They’re open to the public and we want people to not only observe but to experience dance,” Tatge said.

Classes are taught by dance masters in the Berkshires area and other Pillow performers. Dancers of all experience levels are welcome to attend to try out a new dance style.

Here are some of Tatge’s Pillow picks for the 85th Season

  • July 5-9: “Jessica Lang Dance is another favorite because we’re actually going to have live music played by Tanglewood musicians,” Tatge said. This performance will be held in the Ted Shawn Theater and will include “Thousand Yard Stare” and “The Calling” among others.  
  • July 19-23: “The solo dancer Aakash Odedra, he has an incredible ability as a dancer to embody multiple choreographies and in a single night you’ll see his body do four of the most important choreographers working today,” Tatge said. Those choreographers include Akram Khan, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Russell Maliphant and Odedra. 
  • Aug. 9-13: “I’m very excited to see the winner of last year’s Jacob’s Pillow Award,” Tatge said. Camille A. Brown, the 2016 winner of the prestigious award, will be performing “BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play.” “It’s an amazing work about African American young women. She really translates a lot of the games they play into movement vocabulary that’s joyous and fantastic,” Tatge said.  This performance will also include live music. 
  • Aug. 9-13: “I’m really excited to see a work that is based on some of the history of Elvis Presley,” Tatge said. “Elvis Everywhere” focuses on the obsession with celebrity and draws connections with politics of the present era. 
  • Aug. 13: “With Trisha Brown Dance Company, we are bringing to the Clark Museum in Williamstown a site-specific performance in the beautiful grounds of the Clark Museum. That’s a must-see,” Tatge said. 
  • Third Thursdays: “We’re taking dance off the mountain into Pittsfield. We’ll be a part of every Third Thursday Celebration in Pittsfield,” Tatge said. Various dance companies and performers will be joining in the street festivals in Pittsfield. 
  • Aug. 26: “It’s National Dog Day and we are inviting dogs and their caregivers to come and be directed by a choreographer and we’re asking for donations for the Humane Society in our region,” Tatge said. The class will be led by Elizabeth Johnson, associate artist of Dance Exchange. 

For a full schedule of Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival visit: jacobspillow.org/festival.

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