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The (Royal) British (Ballet) are coming (to Becket): Jacob’s Pillow announces Summer 2024 festival lineup

 Artwork for Jacob's Pillow 2023 season
Cherylynn Tsushima
Jacob's Pillow
A performance on the Henry J. Leir Stage at Jacob's Pillow in Becket, Massachusetts.

Becket, Massachusetts dance center Jacob’s Pillow has announced the lineup for its summer festival. The centerpiece of the schedule is a weeklong residency by the Royal Ballet of the United Kingdom, which will offer special indoor and outdoor programs at its Pillow debut. Alongside nine weeks of dance, visitors will be able to see the progress made on the new Doris Duke Theatre since the original building burned down in November 2020 under still undetermined circumstances. Executive and Artistic Director Pamela Tatge tells WAMC that the Royal Ballet’s Pillow appearance has been years in the making.

TATGE: This is one of the most extraordinary ballet companies in the world. We have always wanted to have the pillow debut of the Royal Ballet, but we were never really able to do it because the stage in the Shawn wasn't big enough. People may know that we renovated the Shawn on the occasion of our 90th anniversary two years ago. So, I actually began working on this in 2018, and I'm just so delighted that it's coming to fruition this year. It will be an entire takeover of the Jacob's Pillow landscape, from performances of solos and duets on the outdoor stage to company work in the Shawn, including world premieres and classical works, “Le Corsaire” and others, alongside contemporary works by Christopher Wheeldon, Wayne McGregor, Pam Tanowitz. So, it's really, really exciting for the Pillow, for Pillow audiences.

WAMC: What were those conversations like with the Royal Ballet of the UK to bring together this collaboration with the Pillow?

At first, it was really finding a feasible week when the company could get away- And in fact, that's not so easy, they're really in demand at Covent Garden. And so, there was really only one week it could be and it is the fourth of July week, and as a result, it is their exclusive United States stop. So, the first thing was to find that week, and then Kevin O'Hara, the artistic director, had actually never been to Jacob's Pillow before and he came last summer. He was able to take a journey into the past of any number of Royal Ballet dancers who've been here in our archives, and then he witnessed performances. And he immediately looked out at the Henry J. Leir stage, our beautiful stage that has the backdrop of the Berkshire hills, and he said, oh, could we perform there too. And so, we said of course. And that's how the idea of the takeover began.

Now, I guess on paper, it sort of seems like this meeting of the minds of the more experimental leanings of Jacob's Pillow and something that sounds a bit more part of the heart of culture in England like the Royal Ballet. Any thoughts on that, that cultural intersection?

Jacob's Pillow has always got to be a place that honors the past, honors the classic pillars of dance, while at the same time, being future leaning in the most important ways possible. For example, this summer, we're presenting a company that's just been reinvented, Gibney Company, on the Henry J. Leir stage. We will have Camille A. Brown, who's one of the most important contemporary voices in dance right now, who’s made the crossover to Broadway, choreographing “Hell's Kitchen” for Alicia Keys, the new Soul Train musical. So, she's doing that while she’s creating new works for her own company, and we'll be having the world premiere of a magnificent work entitled “I Am” that just is this joyful piece about what could a positive future look like for African Americans. And so, it's important that Jacob's Pillow straddle the widest range of dance because we are that home for dance and have been for 92 years.

Now, Jacob's Pillow also works in Berkshire communities outside of Becket. At this point, any sense of what that series is going to look like as the company heads out into the community?

Yes. We will, again, have Jacob's Pillow On The Road, and we are that is when we take performances into the community, and we're just putting that series together now. We will also have a series of workshops. Companies like Camille A. Brown & Dancers will actually come earlier to have workshops in community. Camille is really someone who celebrates Black girls, and has in her amazing work “Black Girl Linguistic Play” that we did in 2017. So, she has wonderful programs that engage youth that we will bring to Pittsfield, in particular, prior to the engagement, so that when Camille comes, there will be an entire community celebration as well as celebrations here on the Jacob's Pillow campus. So, that is a robust part of our program, and addition for the Royal Ballet, really working to make sure that anyone in our region who studies ballet has the chance to see this performance.

What are some other highlights from the season that you're looking forward to?

When I sort of stood back and reflected, first of all, it's a series that really honors live music. And to me, it's absolutely critical to see movement in dialogue with music. And so, for example, we’ll host the Pillow debut of Social Tango, this incredible group from Buenos Aires that will bring some of the best tango dancers and some of the best musicians into the Shawn, and that piece also has community engagement ties. Every performance will welcome a handful of local tango couples onto the stage, and that's just going to be so celebratory. Noche Flamenca, another company, incredible flamenco musicians, guitarists, percussionists, singers who will accompany the dance. The other is welcoming back to the Pillow companies who haven't been here in decades. Two of them, the first is Parsons Dance- David Parsons, who was a choreographer who came out of the Paul Taylor Dance Company, and audiences who know us know that we have a deep history with Paul Taylor. So, the Parsons Dance Company hasn't been here for 25 years, and they will present as some sort of an all-star hit program. And then the company MOMIX, which is actually based just a bit over an hour drive from here at the Pillow in Washington, Connecticut. MOMIX, founded by Moses Pendleton, uses, to me, spectacle and illusion with dance in ways that very few companies have successfully done. MOMIX will have a program entitled “Viva MOMIX,” also a rep program of some of their best work. I'm also looking forward to the fact that we are determined to continue our showcasing of indigenous art at every festival. We haven't announced all of the works that we're presenting yet, but one we've announced is Dancers of Damelahamid. This is a company that is a company of traditional dance from the westernmost coast of British Columbia. It's a dance that very few in this country have ever seen. It’s indigenous dance with beautiful music and masks, and to see that on our outdoor stage is just going to be stunning.

While it's not scheduled to officially reopen until 2025, are there any updates on the reopening of the Doris Duke Theatre?

The Duke is rising from the ashes, I'm happy to report. In September we had our first shovel in the ground, our official groundbreaking ceremony was in November. It's going up so fast. I have to say the weather, the weather hasn't been- We haven't had too much snow or freezing, [which] has helped us advance and it is looking like we're on schedule to have a new theatre by the summer of 2025.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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