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Jacob’s Pillow Building $4.5M Year-Round Dance Studio

Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival is internationally known for its summer performance season, but the organization is looking to expand its influence year-round.The 220-acre National Historic Landmark encompassing former New England farmland is abuzz for 10 weeks in the middle of the year with 350 performances from more than 50 dance companies. But, as the temperatures cool, so does the activity on the Pillow’s stages – both indoor and outdoor – in Becket, Massachusetts. To even that out the organization is building a $4.5 million year-round studio.

“Having a year-round studio enables us to be the kind of incubator for new work in the United States that we want to be,” said Director Pamela Tatge. “It means that we can invite choreographers and their companies to have time in a gorgeous studio to develop their work. Increasingly artists have difficulty finding space and time to develop their work. That’s a key need nationally. So we will be able to come on the scene as a supporter of dance-making in our field in a way that we’ve never been able to do before.”

Tatge says the studio will boast a 3,500-square foot sprung dance floor, nearly doubling the size of the current rehearsal building for The School at Jacob’s Pillow.

“We have educated some of the finest dancers in the United States and the world,” she said. “They come to us from many different counties. The idea that they have been working in a studio with an uneven floor with a ceiling that if you are a ballet dancer and you are being lifted above someone’s head you actually risk hitting your head and in a place that hasn’t been climate-controlled.”

Tatge says the space will also allow flexibility when inclement weather forces an outdoor performance inside.

“We can really only accommodate 50 people in an indoor studio now,” Tatge explained. “We’re going to be able to triple that in the new studio.”

Consideration has also been given to the look of the new building, fitting in with the other campus structures, mostly repurposed homes, cabins or barns. One building was even a stop on the Underground Railroad. Manager of Capital Construction Projects Matt Donnelly says the new studio will replicate the board and batten look with a metal roof, but the interior will be a much different experience.

“A significant improvement in the sound package which is the most important for rehearsal,” Donnelly said. “We need good sound. We need the instructors to be able to speak clearly over whatever media they’re playing. But, I would say the biggest difference is the insulation of the building. Having a four-seasons building is huge and it’s something we don’t have a lot of. So that’s a limiting factor in the year-round programs we can put on.”

The studio will also feature an observation deck for about 30 people and office space for the Pillow’s educational staff. The exterior is set to be completed by May with interior work continuing throughout the 2017 Festival. The 2016 Festival marked the highest ever ticket revenue total at $2.3 million and 108,000 visitor experiences. The recently renovated Blake’s Barn, home to thousands of photographs and films dating to 1894, saw 23,000 visitor interactions with the company’s archives. Tatge, who took over for 17-year director Ella Baff earlier this year, says the Pillow is proving that it is not just a summer tourist destination.

“What we see ourselves as is a major research and development center for dance,” Tatge said. “The Festival is sort of the summer manifestation of that work and history. But, I think over time what you’re going to see is a balancing out of activity. I don’t see us having performance programming in the offseason be primary because of the weather here, but being a site for the development of work and having showings and occasional events – I think that’s really going to be our focus.”

Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival enters its 85th season in 2017.

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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