Friday, September 02, 2011


It has been years now, I don't know how many, that I've seen photographs of dancers performing on an outdoor stage that overlooks trees and hills, and thought to myself "Wow, it would be great to be there." There is Jacob's Pillow. Set in the Berkshires, it's the country's oldest ongoing dance festival.

I guess the Gods of Dance wanted me there too: After paying 50 cents for a local Berkshires newspaper in the cafe of Mass MoCA, I flipped to the arts section ans spotted a listing for a dance performance that would be happening that night at Jacob's Pillow. It was a show I had wanted to see here at NYC's Lincoln Center - David Dorfman's The Prophets of Funk, but had missed for some reason.

I called the number listed on the event, and a friendly woman answered the phone. She spent a generous amount of time giving me the run-down of that evening's events at the festival.

When we arrived at Jacob's Pillow, it was dusk and magic was in the air. People were milling around the many cabin structures around the site, enjoying the ambiance and each other's company. We checked in with the welcome tent, where we were handed a gorgeous press packet. Toni Bolger, the Marketing & Communication Assistant at Jacob's Pillow Dance, warmly greeted us, and gave us a tour of the grounds while describing the festival's long and interesting history as well as its current offerings.

I've never experienced quite this level of hospitality and generosity at a cultural event or institution and I thank Ms. Bolger and her team for creating such a memorable experience for Mike (my husband) and myself. After interacting with Ms. Bolger and other Jacob's Pillow staff, I have a better picture of why this festival is such a huge success!

Here are some interesting facts I learned about Jacob's Pillow:

* 2012 will mark Jacob's Pillow's 80th year

* It is a National Historic Landmark

* At The White House, President Obama recently presented JP with the National Medal of the Arts

* It was once part of the Underground Railroad

* The land was originally settled in 1790 by the Carter family as a mountaintop farm

* In 1931, modern dance pioneer Ted Shawn bought the farm as a retreat. Ted and his wife, Ruth St. Denis, were America's leading dance couple. Together, they formed the Denishawn Company, which "popularized a revolutionary dance form rooted in theatrical and multicultural traditions rather than that of European ballet." They paved the way for other dance pioneers such as Martha Graham.

* In 1933, Ted Shawn recruited 8 men - some of them physical education students, to start a new dance company. Ted wanted to make dancing a viable career for men. The company gave dance-focused tea lectures and demonstrations on Ted's property and around the world. In 1940, the group disbanded when some of the members went off to war.

* In 1942, the Ted Shawn Theater presented world premiers and US debuts of artists from the world over to the Berkshire community in Western Mass. From there, various folks ran the festival and from 1998 onward, Ella Baff has been running the show.

To keep abreast of what's going on at Jacob's Pillow, sign up for their E-Club HERE.
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