Ella Baff: The Jacob's Pillow Director on the Festival's 80th Year

By Burke, Siobhan | Dance Magazine, June 2012 | Go to article overview

Ella Baff: The Jacob's Pillow Director on the Festival's 80th Year


Burke, Siobhan, Dance Magazine


In 1930, when Ted Shawn acquired a run-down farm in the Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts, he probably never imagined that it would one day be home to an international summer dance festival celebrating its 80th anniversary. Or maybe he did. Shawn and his company of Men Dancers had a way of dreaming big, a quality inherited by subsequent leaders of Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival, including Ella Baff, who has been the artistic and executive director since 1998.

Under Barf's guidance, the Pillow became a National Historic Landmark, won a National Medal of Arts, developed an invaluable online archive, and has continued presenting an unparalleled array of dance from around the world. Its delectable offerings this season, which runs June 16 to August 26, include a tribute to the Men Dancers, screenings of the new documentary Never Stand Still, three "Back by Popular Demand" shows, and much more. In fact, our cover girl Sara Mearns makes her Pillow debut this month with the Morphoses company. (For the full schedule, see www.jacobspillow.org.) Dance Magazine associate editor Siobhan Burke spoke with Baff in March.

I'm curious about your "Back by Popular Demand" programs: Crystal Pite's Dark Matters, Doug Elkins' Fraulein Maria, Tero Saarinen's Borrowed Light. Why did you decide to bring back these works? Usually I don't bring things back very quickly, or at all; I like to change the mix of things. But there are some works that are terrific, important works that should be seen again and again and become classics. People who saw these three works originally were either so wild about them that they came back a second time, or they said, "That was one of the most fabulous things I've ever seen. When is it coming back?" They are unique pieces by some of the smartest people I've ever met and some of the smartest dancemakers around.

Are there any common misconceptions about Jacob's Pillow?

Some people think that we only present ballet. Why? I have absolutely no idea. Some people think it's much further from New York City than it actually is. No, you can't take the subway there, but it isn't very far. A lot of people also don't know that the Pillow is much more than just performances. All of our free public programs--we have more then 300 of them--are fun and educational. You can learn a great amount in a very casual, friendly way, through talks before every performance, talks with artists, meeting artists at the Pub, observing training with the extraordinary faculty at the school, our exhibits, our archives. …

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