When Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival opens its 2022 season with a big gala on June 18, the organization — and dance lovers — will have a lot to celebrate. The season not only honors Jacob’s Pillow’s 90th anniversary as America’s longest-running international dance festival, it also marks a return to live indoor performance in the newly renovated historic Ted Shawn Theatre, the centerpiece of the Pillow’s pastoral campus. In addition, the festival will host outdoor performances on the Leir Stage, special site-based performances around the campus, dance parties, community events, exhibits, classes, workshops, and PillowTalks.
And the aforementioned gala, which is always chock full of dance stars and generally a lavish, pricey affair? For the first time, the in-person event, the first full-scale performance in the updated Ted Shawn Theatre, will also be streamed live for more affordable access by audiences around the world. The never-before-seen program features a range of intriguing performances, from an excerpt of Ted Shawn’s iconic “Dance of the Ages” to a world premiere choreographed by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa. Then there’s the raft of special guests, from Michelle Dorrance and Camille A. Brown to Liz Lerman and Mark Morris. The program also will include the presentation of the 2022 Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award to famed Belgian and Moroccan choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui.
“The challenge has been to represent 90 years in a 75-minute program, which has everything from a nod to founder Ted Shawn to Cherkaoui, one of the most talented and visionary choreographers of our time,” says Jacob’s Pillow’s executive and artistic director Pamela Tatge. “We wanted to inaugurate the stage with artists representing each decade of our history, and through them honor all the artists who have graced that stage over the past.”
“What’s new alongside what’s enduring is part of what’s exciting at Jacob’s Pillow,” says the organization’s director of preservation, Norton Owen, who has been at the Pillow since 1976. “This really is an opportunity to see the Pillow’s longevity and stability and excitement coming into focus in a great way, walking in the footsteps of our forebears.”
Choreographer Lerman, whose performances at the Pillow date back to 1985, agrees, citing the history of the land itself and its “poetic allure and spiritual connection.”
“It’s such a unique setting, with the opportunity to go inward and outward at the same time,” she says. “What you feel is all those dancers who have come before you. I think there will be a lot of emotion in the space for this 90th anniversary, at a time when dance is so critically important and fragile.”
The gala also will showcase the Ted Shawn Theatre itself. At its opening in 1942, it was the first performance space in America designed exclusively for dance. After a yearlong, $8 million renovation, it now sports a new cooling and air ventilation system, orchestra pit, expanded accessibility for artists and audience members, an increased stage depth (by 10 feet), and enhanced technology, among other improvements.
Tatge is especially excited for the new access for artists with disabilities. “Prior to the renovation there was no access to a wheelchair on the stage,” she says. “We will have not only the first disabled dancers on our stage [during the gala], but they will be flying from our new steel beams. It will be an amazing moment to witness Alice Sheppard and Laurel Lawson of Kinetic Light.”
Throughout Jacob’s Pillow’s history, programming has been a rich mix of the traditional and the cutting edge, and this summer season is no different, including both notable anniversaries and premieres. New York’s Limón Dance Company, performing July 20-24, has both, as it celebrates the 75th anniversary of its founding and presents a new work by Olivier Taparga commissioned by the Pillow especially for the occasion. “So few American dance companies last that long, and José Limón was a student of Doris Humphrey, [who] was a dancer with Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn, so this company directly descends from our founder and his pioneering work,” says Tatge.
The first concert Shawn presented in the theater was conceived as a showcase of American Folk Dances, and the Pillow revisits the theme with its season opener June 22-26, “AMERICA(NA) TO ME.” Tatge believes the program beautifully epitomizes the spirit of Jacob’s Pillow and ties a lot of the season together. It showcases an expansive array of dance artists reflecting on what American identity means to them, with movement works reflecting on heritage, tradition, and belonging. The exclusive engagement features three Pillow commissions and a cast that includes, among others, indigenous dancers Warwick Gombey Troupe, American flamenco artist Nélida Tirado, tap queen Dormeshia & Guests, and New York City Ballet principal dancer Sara Mearns in collaboration with her husband, Broadway choreographer Joshua Bergasse.
“What makes the Pillow unique is this ongoing conversation between old and new,” says Owen, who curates exhibits in the campus’s Blake’s Barn to highlight the context for the season’s featured artists as part of a broad continuum. “When those multiple time periods rub up against each other, it can energize the performance you’re seeing. I don’t know many other places where that magic exists.”
Karen Campbell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.