Jacob’s Pillow looks year-round

Around the open stage at the edge of the valley, the sun shone through the hard rock maples and turned the leaves too bright to look at.

When I stood here on a summer evening, the clearing was full to overflowing, and children were climbing on the glacial boulders. Hari Krishnan was performing classical Indian dance with staccato steps to live, improvised percussion, and Marina Elana followed him in counterpoint with contemporary flamenco.

This afternoon the wooden benches in the drifted leaves were shining and empty as the line of oak railroad ties in Richard Nonas’ recent show at Mass MoCA. I stood by the Inside/Out Stage, looking out at the far ridge. I had never seen Jacob’s Pillow in the fall before.

The crowd gathering around Blake’s Barn in Becket had come here this afternoon to imagine dancers and choreographers like tap innovator Michelle Dorrance, the Martha Graham Dance Company or the Kùlú Mèlé African Dance and Drum Ensemble on the campus at this time of year.

Fall was alive in the hills on Friday. After a hot, dry summer and an uncertain start, it had come all at once, and on the back roads between Sheffield and Becket the swamp and sugar maple and white ash and grape vines glowed until driving became dangerous. And I came up through them to the groundbreaking for the new Perles Family Studio.

This is the first free-standing construction at the Pillow since the Doris Duke Theatre, 25 years ago, said Michael Levitt, chair of the board.

Pamela Tatge, who stepped into her role as executive director six months ago, has encompassed this new construction with vigor, he said.

She sees this new year-round space as a center for teaching and creating new work, she said — for research and development in dance, for taking part in an international dialog about the rapidly changing dance world, for holding classes and workshops.

Levitt and Abigail Wood, Digital Initiatives and Marketing Manager at the Pillow, talked warmly about Tatge’s imagination and active plans for the new space and the Pillow’s future.

It gave her a sense of excitement and energy, Wood said, to be working at the Pillow now, in this changing time.

And Tatge spoke of community. As she acknowledged the board and the leaders and supporters of the project, she also thanked the town of Becket and the building inspector, William Girard, and J.R. Glover, Jacob’s Pillow’s director of education, who has continued to draw young dancers to the Pillow school.

For more than 50 years those young dancers have studied at the Somers studio, and

alumni have gone on around the world, including New York opera composer and choreographer Meredith Monk, Emmy awardwinner Mia Michaels and Robert Swinston, artistic director of the French ensemble Compagnie CNDC-Angers.

The Somers had been built in the 1920s, Tatge said, and moved in the 1950s from the property higher on the hill where  director of preservation Norton Owen lives now.

She spoke of its past with affection and its present with humor: “The floor is uneven. The dancers can’t be lifted without hitting their heads, and you all know the feeling on rainy days of positioning yourself in the door jam to watch them without getting wet.”

This new space, with year-round rehearsal space and high ceilings, will also seat 150 comfortably indoors, and an observation deck for 29 more will recall the first public space in Ted Shawn’s barn studio, where he and his Men Dancers began to offer performances and talks in the summer of 1933.

The Pillow is looking ahead now to its 85th anniversary, as year-round programming becomes a possibility on the horizon and Tatge plans her first summer season. And changes are moving in the Berkshires well beyond this mountaintop.

Tatge spoke at the Berkshire Museum a week ago at a Spark event with Peter Taylor, the new president of Berkshire Taconic Foundation, and Jennifer Trainer Thompson, who will take over at the end of the year as the president and chief executive officer of Hancock Shaker Village, moving from her role as senior vice president of partnerships and external affairs at Mass MoCA, where she had served as director of development since 1988.

Since early September, Allyn Burrows, artistic director of the Boston-based Actors Shakespeare Project, has been named the new artistic director at Shakespeare & Company, and Olivier Meslay, longtime curator at the Dallas Museum of Art, as the new director at the Clark Art Institute.

It’s enough to raise curiosity about the future.

A few days after the Spark event, Ricco Fruscio, program coordinator at the North Adams Chamber of commerce challenged another room full of entrepreneurs at a Meetup at Bright Ideas at Mass MoCA to imagine how the county should move forward, build and sustain momentum, support the people who live here and draw newcomers in.

He was sitting at a smooth, spare counter in a microbrewery that did not exist a year ago. Behind the bar, light gleamed on metal piping.

Tatge, speaking a few days later under leaves as bright as copper, could have been giving him some part of an answer.

 

In the photo at the top, the Inside Out Stage at Jacob’s Pillow in Becket gleams in the late afternoon on a crisp fall day. Photo by Kate Abbott

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