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Jacob’s Pillow sees stars to mark its 80th season

Before there was “So You Think You Can Dance,’’ before “The Nutcracker’’ became a Christmas tradition, before George Balanchine even came to America, there was a Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival. The Pillow turns 80 next year; it’s the country’s longest-running dance festival, a National Historic Landmark, and a National Medal of Arts recipient.

And as if that were not enough, Ella Baff the Pillow’s executive and artistic director (who will celebrate her own anniversary: her 15th year with the festival), has announced an exciting lineup for 2012 that has a little bit of everything: such familiar names as Bill T. Jones, Trey McIntyre, and the Joffrey Ballet; the return of some recent favorites “By Popular Demand’’; and debut appearances by companies such as the Hong Kong Ballet that will be hoping to make new friends.

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Baff herself hardly knows where to start. “I wanted to honor the history-making,’’ she allows, “and the ever-adventurous spirit of the Pillow. Even going back to Ted Shawn and His Men Dancers.’’

So for its 80th anniversary, the Pillow has created its own version of “From the Horse’s Mouth,’’ a work that has appeared all over the world. In “From the Horse’s Mouth: The Men Dancers,’’ Baff explains, “The most extraordinary male dancers and choreographers of today will both perform and tell very very short stories about their lives in dance. The stories are no more than a minute or two.’’ The Pillow’s rotating lineup will include Trent Kowalik from ‘‘Billy Elliot: The Musical,’’ Dance Theatre of Harlem founder Arthur Mitchell, choreographer Lar Lubovitch, and former New York City Ballet principal Jock Soto.

Then there’s the trio of “By Popular Demand’’ returnees. Tero Saarinen’s “Borrowed Light’’ was performed at the Pillow in 2006. “It was inspired by his research into the Shakers,’’ says Baff, “and of course that has so much to do with our area. And he has live music, with the Boston Camerata, one of the preeminent early-music groups in the entire world.’’ Crystal Pite’s “Dark Matters’’ was presented by Kidd Pivot Frankfurt RM just last year, but Baff describes it as “one of the most accomplished pieces of choreography and theater that I’ve seen in a long time’’ by “one of the most important choreographers working today.’’ The third piece is Doug Elkins and Friends’ “Fräulein Maria,’’ a deconstruction of “The Sound of Music’’ that Baff calls “a very generous and joyous celebration and at the same time so intelligently crafted.’’

There’s much more. Jonah Bokaer, a former member of the Merce Cunningham Company, will create a solo for himself, a solo for David Hallberg, the Bolshoi and American Ballet Theatre star, and a duet for the pair of them. Jones will appear on stage as the narrator in his new “Story/Time.’’ (Jones also narrates the new feature-length, Ron Honsa-directed documentary about Jacob’s Pillow, “Never Stand Still,’’ which will be arriving in theaters in 2012.) The Royal Winnipeg Ballet, which rarely tours, made its US debut at the Pillow in 1964; next year it’s coming back. The Joffrey Ballet will present Edwaard Liang’s Jane Austen-inspired “Age of Innocence.’’

Here’s the complete lineup:

June 16: 80th Anniversary Season Opening Gala. June 20-24: Mimulus (Brazil) and CIRCA (Australia). June 27-July 1: Morphoses and Kidd Pivot Frankfurt RM (Canada/Germany). July 4-8: Vertigo Dance Company (Israel) and LeeSaar The Company. July 11-15: Tero Saarinen Company (Finland) and “From the Horse’s Mouth: The Men Dancers.’’ July 18-22: Hong Kong Ballet and Luna Negra Dance Theater. July 25-29: Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company and Jessica Lang Dance. Aug. 1-5: Royal Winnipeg Ballet (Canada) and Jonah Bokaer x David Hallberg. Aug. 8-12: Trey McIntyre Project and Dance Heginbotham. Aug. 15-19: Compagnie Käfig (Brazil/France) and Liz Gerring Dance Company. Aug. 19: “A Jazz Happening.’’ Aug. 22-26: Joffrey Ballet and Doug Elkins and Friends’ “Fräulein Maria.’’

“In short,’’ says Baff, “it’s going to be nearly three months of dance dance dance dance dance.’’

Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at jeffreymgantz@gmail.com.
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