As it lays plans for its summer season, Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival is seeking to pay homage to its past while staying committed to its role as an incubator of boundary-breaking new works. The balance between respect for its history and ambitions for the future is reflected in the Pillow’s diverse lineup of programming for its recently-announced 80th season.
The season begins in June with a world premiere choreographed by a former principal dancer in England’s Royal Ballet (to be performed by ballet students in residence at the Pillow), and along its way will include a week-long tribute to influential founder Ted Shawn; return engagements from prominent companies who haven’t performed at the Pillow in decades (the Joffrey Ballet and Royal Winnipeg Ballet); at least three other world or U.S. premieres; and visiting dance companies from Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Finland, France, Germany and Israel.
This diversity reflects the many roles the Pillow plays, building long-term relationships with established artists as well as lending its imprimatur to dancers and dance companies who are lesser known in this country and relish the chance to perform in Becket.
"We’re always doing new things. It never gets boring, and it never gets old," Ella Baff, executive and artistic director, said. "Even though we’re the longest-running dance festival in America, we feel in some ways like we’re a start-up enterprise every year. That’s a great way to feel, and I think people get that energy from the place.
In typical fashion, the Pillow will salute its founder -- who created the Pillow in 1933 as a venue for the training and performance of his groundbreaking all-male troupe -- in a manner that highlights his contributions to the form while resisting idle nostalgia. "From the Horse’s Mouth: The Men Dancers" features a week of performances in mid-July from a shifting cast of some 20 dancers and choreographers, who will perform solo pieces and then share with the audience personal stories about their experiences in the industry. The roster of performers for this festival-within-a-festival represents a wide range of styles and generations, including Dance Theatre of Harlem founder Arthur Mitchell, tap dance standout Jason Samuels Smith and the enormously respected choreographer Lar Lubovitch.
The Pillow’s eye on the present and future of dance is seen in an exclusive pairing of dancer/choreographer Jonah Bokaer and American Ballet Theatre principal dancer David Hallberg in August. Bokaer is a former student at the School of Jacob’s Pillow who is internationally renowned, in part, for daring conceptual conceits. (He performed in an original piece last summer in which 10,000 ping-pong balls were gradually dropped onto the stage.) He will choreograph this first-time collaboration with Hallberg, who became the first American to join the Bolshoi Ballet and has emerged as a star of the ballet world, even appearing last summer as a guest on Comedy Central’s "The Colbert Report."
In a first for Jacob’s Pillow, the festival also will feature three pieces that have appeared there in recent years, in an effort to encourage audiences to view them as recent classics and vital additions to the dance repertory. This "Back By Popular Demand" mini-series includes Saarinen’s Shaker-inspired "Borrowed Light," which premiered in the United States, at the Pillow, in 2006; Crystal Pite’s "Dark Matters," which was part of last season’s schedule; and Doug Elkins’ "Fraulein Maria," first seen in 2009.
"There’s always little threads of tradition as well as something unprecedented and new at the same time, which play off of each other in really beautiful ways. What I find exciting about Jacob’s Pillow always is this interweaving of tradition and the new," said Norton Owen, who as the Pillow’s director of preservation, has in his portfolio maintenance of the company’s extensive archival materials. "I think it gives the new things more weight, and I think it also allows us to see older work or things that have some tie to the past in a new way."
Different approaches to and styles of dance will be seen in performances by Brazilian dance company Mimulus, the Australian "circus-arts" company Circa, Israeli contemporary dance company Vertigo and the Pillow debut of the Hong Kong Ballet.
"I think it’s very, very important to show audiences new things and a lot of different kinds of things. I don’t want people to think of dance as one thing or another," Baff said. "Dance is just like music or any other art form -- it’s worldwide. It’s happening in small villages and big cities. There are a lot of different kinds of it and different points of view and different styles and different attractions, and the Pillow is an international center for dance."
Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival’s 2012 season opens with a gala performance on June 16 and runs through Aug. 25. Included are many free events, artist talks and historical exhibits. Ticketing info and the full schedule can be found at jacobspillow.org.