Four Score and Five
Jacob’s Pillow turns 85 with global presence
Eiko Otake will create a new work this summer at Jacob’s Pillow, where she has become fascinated with the glacial boulders and the landscape’s resiliance.
Photo by William Johnston
When Ted Shawn came to Becket, he built a dance studio in an old barn, and he traveled the world. He studied dance in Japan, Cambodia, and India, in the Philippines and the American Southwest. And he brought those forms of dance back here, to a farm on a dirt road—where local people came to watch his dance company rehearse in his garden. Over time, he founded the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival which has gained international fame.
Now, in the Pillow’s 85th year, director Pamela Tatge wants to continue what Shawn began. Tatge came to the Pillow a year ago, and this is the first season she has almost wholly curated—one that is rich in international influences and community programs. She has brought in dancers she has seen on her travels, like Israeli choreographer and performer Roy Assaf, and artists she has known over the years. Many of them, from performance artist Eiko Otake to choreographer and dancer Camille A. Brown and tap icons Michelle Dorrance and Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, participate in free performances and community events.
Eiko will create a new work at the Pillow this summer. She has performed her solo series, “A Body in Places,” around the world—at Fukushima, Japan, after an earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdowns. She has created work in train stations and warehouses, libraries and museums, at Ground Zero — and now she is working with a mountain. In Becket, she has become fascinated with the glacial boulders, Tatge says, and with the resilience of a landscape formed over a geologic age.
“This is the spirit of her insights,” Tatge says, “to imprint her body in that place so you will never see the place again without seeing her lingering there.”
Eiko has created work at the Pillow before. She and her longtime partner formed Eiko & Koma 40 years ago, Tatge says, and they have a relationship with the Pillow going back 24 years, when they came there for a winter residency and performed in the summer. They returned that winter, and photographer Philip Trager took a series of pictures of them that would launch a new part of his career. This is what Tatge remembers when she thinks of Eiko & Koma—Trager’s images of them in the landscape, in the snow.
Eiko is known for bringing dance to places where people don’t always expect it, so she will perform at Third Thursday on July 20 in Pittsfield, and the city will hold a photography exhibit surrounding her work all month in storefronts downtown.
Assaf, a veteran, will reach out to Berkshire veterans, Tatge says, and his performance at the Pillow, July 12-16, includes “The Hill,” inspired by the Hebrew song “Givat Hatachmoshet” (“Ammunition Hill”), about a battle in the 1967 Six-Day War between Israel and Egypt. Assaf served in the Israeli military, and his military experience inspires this work.
For Tatge, the piece invokes a sense of brotherhood, “of leading and following, who collapses and who picks you up.” Tatge is working with local veterans associations, including Soldier On, to bring veterans to see it.
As the month begins, Michelle Dorrance is bringing tap and hip hop to the Pillow and inviting everyone in.
“Her passion for her form is unmatched,” Tatge says, “and she knows astonishing artists all over the world.”
Tatge asked her to curate an evening of performers she loves. Dorrance responded with “Tireless: A Tap Dance Experience,” with Reona and Takashi Seo of Japan, Jumaane Taylor and M.A.D.D. Rhythms of Chicago, Joe Orrach of San Francisco, and brother and sister Joseph and Josette Wiggan of LA—dancing to a solo standing bass, a 50th-anniversary celebration of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, music by Duke Ellington, Puerto Rican trombonist Juan Tizol, and more.
In the same week, Dorrance is bringing together a free celebration of hip hop and street dance on the Inside/Out stage, leading up to an All Styles Dance Battle on July 2. She and tap icon Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards will also direct this summer’s tap program at the Pillow school, with free performances on July 1 and July 8; the Tireless performers will join in in the second show. The Pillow will hold all of these tap and hip hop events in partnership with the Lift Ev’ry Voice Festival, celebrating black art, music, and culture in the Berkshires all summer.
Sumbry-Edwards and Camille A. Brown performed at the Pillow last summer in “And Still You Must Swing,” an evening of tap Sumbry-Edwards created with internationally known tap artists. In August, Brown returns with “BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play,” a celebration of black girls and young women.
Brown has been getting to know young black women here already. At the end of June, she began leading free dance workshops and events involving African dance, black social dances, and contemporary dance. That kind of community connection is deeply important for her, Tatge says, and the Pillow is working with her and with groups in the community to bring people from Pittsfield to see her perform in August as part of Lift Ev’ry Voice.
“If you want to build trust, you go to people’s houses,” says Tatge, “and you invite them to yours.”