Ten Minutes With Pamela Tatge
The new executive director of Jacob’s Pillow
Pamela Tatge comes to the Berkshires after 16 years as director of Wesleyan University’s Center for the Arts. At the helm of Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, she is dedicated to the educational applications of movement and committed to partnerships between dance and museum settings. Excited by the natural landscape and motivated to collaborate with such impressive institutions, Tatge wants to bring the Pillow to youth and underserved audiences, to “become part of the fabric of their lives.” She opens the season June 18, 2016.
What have you discovered about the Berkshires now that you’ve lived here a few weeks?
I love the notion of what happens to people when they get away from it all, and there’s a bit about the Berkshires that is absolutely a sense of
retreat. I’m really interested in how Jacob’s Pillow functions in that total ecology of wellness and escape and retreat that we all desperately need.
Has the change in location had a personal effect on you?
I’m living in artist’s housing right now, which means I wake up every morning right up the street and I feel myself compelled to go outside. I’ve never been that person. There is something about this landscape that draws you to the outside. I am a runner, a walker. I feel like I’m going to be able to do that so much more. I’m going to make time for it, because it’s just too seductive to not do it. I look forward to being physically engaged with this landscape because of how it really is speaking to me.
Previously you worked in the wider performing arts and not just dance. What led you to this career choice?
In my time at Wesleyan, I decided that because there wasn’t a real home for contemporary dance in Connecticut, that Wesleyan should be that home because 40 percent of the students graduate with having taken a dance class. It stands as a big part of the Wesleyan culture and that has been supported in great measure by the world dance forms that we teach. African dance is a great point of entry into the further study of dance. I felt like that was a niche that needed to be filled.
What turned the corner for me in terms of being so excited about this particular art form was when we put choreographers into non-art settings at the university as a means of assisting them in the research for their next work; and also catalyzing new ways of teaching, new ways of researching in non-arts faculty, in history, in physics, in biology. When I saw what it meant to introduce a choreographer, introduce movement into teaching, that’s when I said, “Dance is really what I love.” I love all the art forms, but I love this one a great deal.
How does dance work with education?
Dance is a way in for a lot of students who wouldn’t otherwise get excited about biology or physics, for example. Jacob’s Pillow’s Curriculum In Motion program, which actually puts an artist in a classroom with a non-artist to teach the subject matter where students who maybe glaze over at a PowerPoint on covalent bonds, when they’re asked to stand up to make the covalent bond, they ask questions, they go more deeply into that scientific process because they’re using their bodies, they’re using movement. Dance is also hugely accessible and a part of many young people’s lives in all socio-economic classes. If we can harness that energy and use it as a means into an educational experience or a discussion about social-justice issues, that’s what I’ve seen dance do in a way that many other art forms just can’t do.
Do you have a sense of what type of dance helps connect with young people?
I think it mostly has to do with a choreographer, so I think it can be any kind of dance. It’s a choreographer who can meet youths where they are, as opposed to imposing their agenda. In other words, what’s in the ether of the room? And then building on that with their choreographic practice. I’ve seen it be successful, of course, in more popular dance forms like hip hop, but I’ve seen it be successful in ballet and more contemporary, abstract dance forms. It’s all about the energy of that maker.
What’s one of your personal interests as the future unfolds in your new position? I think it’s increasingly important for Jacob’s Pillow to welcome the world to the Berkshires. This notion of how much global understanding can come from an engagement with a company from a different part of our world, the international focus of the programming is something that I look forward to evolving and expanding as well—this in a climate where it’s increasingly challenging to bring artists from abroad because of immigration issues. I do hope that we can continue that profile because I think there are very few places that do it with the level of density that we do it.
What’s one aspect of your new job that you’re really looking forward to? With this position, I have the luxury of spending time with artists in ways in my last job I wasn’t afforded that kind of time. To me, that is the biggest joy, entering into an artist’s creative process and saying, “What is it you need to advance this idea?”