Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A World of Vibrant Dance Invades a Bucolic Former Farm

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A World of Vibrant Dance Invades a Bucolic Former Farm

Article excerpt

Though the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival unfolds in the quiet, bucolic hills of western Massachusetts, there is nothing sleepy about the flurry of artistic activity that has taken place here each summer for nearly seven decades.

What began as a modest showcase for the choreography of modern dance pioneer Ted Shawn is now one of the most intense hotbeds of international dance activity in the world.

During July and August, the festival's 68th season is ushering in some of the most vibrant dance from cultures around the globe, from ballet to butoh, modern dance to hip-hop. With companies from the United States, France, Japan, Ireland, Africa, Sweden, Brazil, Spain, Canada, and The Netherlands, the festival's current season is one of its most diverse to date.

This diversity is at the heart of the vision director Ella Baff has for the festival, which aims to nurture dance in all its many guises. (Jacob's Pillow was the name of a farm that once occupied this site.) Now in her third summer leading the festival, Ms. Baff likens the offerings at Jacob's Pillow to the variety found in a good art museum, where "You can see everything from Flemish tapestry to Mondrian to Damien Hirst. Somehow it's all accepted as part of the repertoire of that art form.

"I feel that dance has become, at least in this country, very narrowly defined. You tend to hear people talk about either ballet or modern, and these are useful terms, but the terminology is like transportation - it's a construct that gets us around ideas conveniently, but overuse can ... [limit] possibilities.

"There is a world of dance going on out there - there's baroque dance, there's tribal dance in villages, there's dance in downtown New York, in Iowa, in Burundi, everywhere. I want to find a variety and the best that I can find and ... bring it here."

What Baff manages on an annual operating budget of roughly $3.7 million (with no corporate endowment) is a wonder.

This season features 148 performances by 64 dance companies (404 dancers, plus three performing dogs) from 13 countries in works that include four world premires and five US premires. In addition to paid performances in the historic Ted Shawn Theatre and the intimate Doris Duke Studio Theatre, the festival offers more than 200 free shows and talks, exhibits, walking tours, and book signings. …

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