What with its 1998 season, June 23-August 29, brimming with world and local premieres, debuts and sneak previews by major and emerging dance companies, the irrepressible spirit of Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, the world’s oldest dance festival, remains as contagious as ever.
Consider the world premieres: There will be one by Gregory Hines performed by Jazz Tap Ensemble, another by Laura Dean for the American Indian Dance Theatre, and yet another by the triple-talented Ann Carlson, not to mention a site-specific work by San Francisco’s Zaccho Dance Theatre. Add to that, a rare look at a work-in-progress by 20th century master Merce Cunningham, plus Pillow premieres by major companies including Ballet Hispanico, Paul Taylor Dance Company, Susan Marshall & Company, Tharp! and Urban Bush Women. On the boards too, are Pillow debuts by José Greco II Flamenco Dance Company and the team of Dianne McIntyre & jazz master Lester Bowie. There will be sneak previews of new works by Bebe Miller and Meredith Monk/The House. And on top of all that, the Pillow has a new executive director: Ella Baff.
AT THE TED SHAWN THEATRE (Major companies/Major works): The 10-week season will open on June 23 with five days of performances by Ballet Hispanico that include a jazzy new work, “Ritmo y Ruido,” by Tony award-winning choreographer Ann Reinking. The Paul Taylor Dance Company (June 30-July 5) will return with two smashing programs highlighted by the Pillow premieres of two of Taylor’s newest hits: “Piazzolla Caldera” and “The Word.”
Also scheduled for the Ted Shawn Theatre is the Jazz Tap Ensemble (July 7-11) with special guest artists Jimmy Slyde and Dianne Walker. And if that’s not enough, there will be a world premiere by Gregory Hines. Next will be performances by the indefatigable Mark Morris Dance Group (July 14-18) followed by Edward Villella and Dancers from the Miami City Ballet, who promise a program of Balanchine classics including “Diamonds” (Pas de Duex), “Valse-Fantaisie” (1953) and the concert version of “Who Cares?” In dramatic contrast will be the austere magic of Merce Cunningham Dance Company, which returns for six performances, July 28-August 1. Among the highlights of Cunningham’s repertoire will be his newest dance “Pondway,” which was greeted with cheering applause and standing ovations at its world premiere at the Palais Garnier in Paris this past January. Audiences will also have the opportunity to catch the first performance of a Cunningham work-in-progress.
Giving further testimony to dance’s wide range of creativity will be the performances by the American Indian Dance Theatre, August 4-9. The company, renowned for its dazzling theatricality and spirituality, will present a world premiere by one of modern dance’s great experimentalists, Laura Dean, and the U.S. premiere of a work by Michael Greyeyes, a member of the Cree tribe from Saskatchewan. Then, August 11-15, the José Greco II Flamenco Dance Company will make its Pillow debut. Tharp!, the new dance troupe founded by the wild and ever-irreverent Twyla Tharp, will present a series of Pillow premieres including “Roy’s Joys” and “Sweet Fields” (August 18-22).
DORIS DUKE STUDIO THEATRE (Dance/Jazz …and more): Bebe Miller Company opens the Doris Duke Studio Theatre series on June 25 with a program that showcases the company’s signature verve and soul. Of special note will be a sneak preview of Miller’s “Going to the Wall” with original music by jazz clarinetist Don Byron. Donald Byrd/The Group (July 2-5) promises Pillow audiences the New England premiere of “JazzTrain” set to music by jazz greats Max Roach, Vernon Reid and Geri Allen. A chance to see South Indian classical dance close-up will be offered by Malavika Sarukkai, July 9-12.
The next week (July 16-19) will offer a showcase of America’s own ethnic art form when JAZZDANCE by Danny Buraczeski presents “Ezekiel’s Wheel” set to music by Philip Hamilton. After sold-out performances greeted her Pillow debut last summer, Meredith Monk returns (July 23-26) with members of her vocal and theater ensembles who will present a sneak preview of a new music-theater work-in-progress.
Choreographer Dianne McIntyre, well-known for her pioneering and imaginative collaborations with top American jazz artists, will join forces with jazz horn player Lester Bowie and his musical group, Brass Fantasy, for a sneak preview of a new work, July 30-August 2. Next on the boards will be Susan Marshall & Company, which will present the Pillow premiere of “The Most Dangerous Room in the House,” which Marshall created while in residence at the Pillow last summer. The combined dramatic, choreographic and musical gifts of Ann Carlson will be seen in the world premiere of her solo work “Triptych,” August 13-16. Concluding the studio theatre season (August 20-23) will be four performances by Urban Bush Women, whose theatrically riveting work is rooted in African-American folklore and spirituality.
SITE SPECIFIC: The Pillow’s little-known, but historic role as a stop on the Underground Railroad in the 19th century will be recalled and celebrated in Zaccho Dance Theatre’s “Invisible Wings: The Underground Railroad Project,” which will be performed outdoors on the Pillow’s Derby House property, August 25-29. The work, a collaboration between choreographer Joanna Haigood and storyteller Diane Ferlatte, will feature live music by the Cultural Heritage Choir and ethno-musicologist and vocalist Linda Tillery.
FREE FOR ALL: The Pillow grounds will also be the scene of many free and informal events including the popular Inside/Out performances, which take place at sunset, Tuesdays through Thursdays, on the outdoor stage. There are also many chances to hear and talk about dance at the Pillow: a new Picnic Series to take place near the Cafe and Great Lawn on Wednesdays at 5pm, weekly video-illustrated talks in Blake’s Barn on Fridays at 5pm, as well as pre-performance and post-performance talks in both the Ted Shawn Theatre and the Doris Duke Studio Theatre.
A BIT OF BACKGROUND: Nestled in the Berkshire Mountains in the Massachusetts township of Becket, the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival was established by the legendary dancer, teacher and choreographer Ted Shawn in 1933 as a showcase for his own company of male dancers. What began as a series of “Tea Lecture Demonstrations” to promote Shawn’s work has grown into 10-week annual seasons of dance from the four corners of the world. Attracting thousands of people to its three theaters, the festival also consists of a school that draws an international roster of students, audience outreach, dance commissioning programs and community activities.