Pillow Is a Dancer's Dream: Ted Shawn Founded Center That Became Training Ground for Stars Such as Martha Graham

By Lewis, Jean Battey | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), July 31, 1999 | Go to article overview

Pillow Is a Dancer's Dream: Ted Shawn Founded Center That Became Training Ground for Stars Such as Martha Graham


Lewis, Jean Battey, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


This season of the year the cool hills of the Berkshires beckon, and for dance fans heading that way there is no lovelier place to be than Jacob's Pillow.

This venerable dance center in Becket, Mass., first opened its doors for afternoon tea and miniperformances for the local gentry in 1933. It was founded by Ted Shawn, often called the "father of modern dance." Among his pupils were Martha Graham and Doris Humphrey, who both went off on their own to develop a new way of movement.

After their defection, Mr. Shawn assembled a group of male dancers in a pioneering effort to show that dancing for men could be noble and masculine - not such an easy sell in the 1930s and 1940s.

What began small as a summer retreat for his male group has now become a flourishing annual festival with Mr. Shawn's early farmhouse and studios still in use, augmented by two attractively rustic performance halls and a pleasant outdoor performance area nestled in the trees. Mr. Shawn ran the festival until his death in 1972. Through the years Jacob's Pillow has had a checkered history, eventually finding a new vitality in the 1980s.

I first encountered the pleasure of this bucolic spot as a young dance student at "the Pillow," back when Mr. Shawn was still alive. Accommodations were fairly primitive, but the atmosphere was rich with dance history. To rub shoulders with dancers whose performances onstage had thrilled me was a priceless experience.

Today, the Pillow wears the laurels of its success lightly. There are several kiosks that sell souvenirs, coffee and light snacks, and there are soaring white tents for summer dining. The whole area has been landscaped handsomely with walkways and flowers. The scale is intimate and human - a rare civilized delight.

The performances, of course, are the heart of what goes on at Jacob's Pillow. This summer such stalwarts as the Paul Taylor, Trisha Brown and David Parsons companies have made appearances.

Coming next week is the superlative Mark Morris Dance Group, which will bring two recent works. They include "Dancing Honeymoon," which is set to songs by George Gershwin, Jerome Kern and Cole Porter. The Morris company performs next Tuesday through Sunday.

Also appearing in August are Los Munequitos de Matanzas, three generations of Cuban singers, dancers and drummers who will perform street dance, religious dance and three forms of the rumba Aug. …

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