Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival Welcomes Live Audiences On-Site for Its 90th-Anniversary Season

June 15, 2022

Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival is back, and in a befittingly big way. For the first time since 2019, the festival will operate in a familiar—that is, resembling “normal”—fashion, following 2020’s digital-only offerings and 2021’s hybrid approach limiting in-person performances to its outdoor spaces. Plans for this year’s edition encompass 10 weeks of on-site programming, featuring more than 20 companies and choreographers. It also happens to be the festival’s 90th-anniversary season, which means executive and artistic director Pamela Tatge is ready to welcome back in-person audiences with open arms. “The most important thing is celebration,” she says.

While the new building replacing the Doris Duke Theatre (which burned down in late 2020) isn’t expected to be complete until 2024, renovations on the Ted Shawn Theatre are scheduled to be finished early this month. At the gala on June 18, the festival will showcase the Shawn’s new cooling and air ventilation system, 10 feet of increased stage depth, enhanced technology and expanded accessibility features. There is also an orchestra pit, which will be in use this summer. “This was the first theater built for dance in the U.S.,” says Tatge, and the renovations mean being able to bring in works the Pillow was previously unable to due to space limitations, like Balanchine’s Serenade, a Pillow first that will be performed by Miami City Ballet, with a live orchestra, in August.

Another particularly important program happening in the Ted Shawn Theatre is the season’s first, “America(na) to Me,” for which Pillow associate curators Melanie George and Ali Rosa-Salas asked artists to respond to what American dance is today. “The first program in 1942 that Ted Shawn created there included a series of American folk dances,” says Tatge. For the 2022 iteration, the curators invited dancemakers including U.S.-based bharatanatyam performer Mythili Prakash, tap luminary Dormeshia and musical theater choreographer Joshua Bergasse, who will create a work for his wife, New York City Ballet star Sara Mearns. 

A portrait of Mythili Prakash in performance. Her head is tilted and eyes downcast as she gazes, smiling, at her hand, raised to sternum height and forming a mudra with red-painted fingertips.
Mythili Prakash. Photo by Jorge Vismara, courtesy Jacob’s Pillow.

Even with a more “normal” festival planned, some pandemic-necessitated changes from the previous two years will continue. “Last year, we felt the need that people had to come out of isolation and witness dance, so we took the Pillow on the road to four towns in Berkshire County—it was literally a truck, a sound system and a stage,” says Tatge. That local tour returns this summer and will feature Los Angeles’ Versa-Style Dance Company and a salsa program by Eddie Torres Jr. This old-school approach to touring also feels in keeping with the festival’s earliest incarnations—after all, “Ted Shawn and His Men Dancers went town to town,” points out Tatge. 

Another pandemic-inspired repeat is a renewed commitment to digital content. “We’ve always had a digital audience for the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Interactive,” explains Tatge, which expanded with the festival’s digital offerings the last two seasons. This year, the festival will livestream its 90th-anniversary gala and create films of six of the summer’s performances, which will stream between October and May.