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Berkshire dancers to be celebrated on Community Day at Jacob’s Pillow

Jacob's Pillow's annual Community Day event will take place Friday, Aug. 18 and will include performances by Sawyer Mansfield, Ian Spencer Bell, and the Qualia Dance Collective.

Becket — The annual Community Day event at Jacob’s Pillow will be on Friday, August 18. The event will include performances on the Leir Stage at 6 p.m. by Berkshire natives Sayer Mansfield; Ian Spencer Bell; and Fiona Scruggs’ dance troupe, Qualia Dance Collective.

In an interview with The Berkshire Edge, Bell said that dancing has always been a part of his life. “I started taking ballet lessons when I was about four years old,” Bell said. “I was born in Washington, D.C., and I grew up in Virginia. I went to boarding school so I could study classical dance.”

Berkshire County native Ian Spencer Bell. Photo by Stephanie Zollshan.

Bell first moved to the Berkshire County area when he purchased a house with his ex-husband in Sheffield in 2008. He explained that his performance, called “Rising,” is deeply influenced by his time in the Berkshires. “It’s set to six different poems that are about the first few years I’ve been in the Berkshires,” he said. “It’s a deeply personal piece that is rooted in Berkshire County. Parts of the poems discuss my house, the studio where I worked, and the kinds of animals, plants, and flowers on the property.”

He said that when he first moved up to The Berkshires, he ran into Connie Chin, former executive director for Jacob’s Pillow. “Meeting her ultimately led to my teaching at Jacob’s Pillow, and I’ve been teaching there since 2008,” he said. “I have also worked as a visiting artist at Bard College at Simon’s Rock quite a bit. Between those two institutions, as well as The Mount and Chesterwood, I feel like the Berkshires have supported my work.”

Bell said that he feels “very close” to Jacob’s Pillow. “There are almost 100 years of dance history there,” he said. “I feel close to the organization as a historian, writer, dance artist, and teacher.”

Bell said that he is excited to be performing on the same night where other Berkshire County dancers will share the stage and perform their works. “I am really glad that I will be sharing my work with the bigger Berkshire community,” he said. “Jacob’s Pillow brings in such a big audience and it has a big Berkshire reach. I want to say that it’s exciting to dance at the Pillow because it’s one of the homes of American modern dance, and it’s a home that was made by queer men, so I feel especially proud to be there and dance my queer solo.”

Scruggs told The Edge that she has been dancing since she was four years old. “Both of my parents are musicians, so even before I was born, I was listening to music,” Scruggs told The Berkshire Edge. “My mom plays clarinet, and my father plays the saxophone. They have played in orchestras. My parents told me that, when I was a toddler, I was always around the house dancing and moving around to music. But what really kept me into dance is the storytelling of it. Over time, I have found the ability to tell stories through movement, music, and art. The narrative is compelling to me.”

Scruggs explained that, when she was in middle school, she was in a performance of “The Nutcracker” that influenced her work. “I was a student at the time, but there were professionals that we worked with,” Scruggs said. “Being in the wings and watching the professionals perform felt so magical. I learned that you can be so many different characters and tell so many different stories. It’s such a wonderful thing.”

Scruggs has“kind of lived everywhere,” as she explained. “I was born in Germany, and I’ve lived in Tennessee, Florida, and I went to college in Virginia,” she said. “I finally moved to the Berkshires to work at Jacob’s Pillow as an intern a few years ago. That’s when I fell in love with the Berkshires and decided to stay.”

When asked what Jacob’s Pillow means to her, Scruggs said that its history is of special significance to her. “I think about how many great dancers and artists have come through Jacob’s Pillow through the years and who have made a large impact on the dance world,” she said. “You think about all the legacies of the artists that have made it possible for other artists to continue to have a voice in the dance world.”

Scruggs said that the dance troupe will be performing two pieces, “Qualia” and “Chiaroscuro.” “Qualia is also the name of my dance company, but the piece ‘Qualia’ is an excerpt of a longer evening-length of work,” she said. “The excerpt we are performing is called ‘Time Qualia Time’ because the concept of ‘Qualia’ is defined as one’s own individual experience and consciousness. The piece illustrates the cyclical and ephemeral nature of time, space, and energy. The other piece, ‘Chiaroscuro,’ is also an excerpt from a longer work. The section we’re doing is about Baroque music through a contemporary lens. It’s also sort of thinking about the meaning of chiaroscuro, which is the contrast of light and shadow, like in a Baroque painting. The use of light and shadow to create that effect.”

Mansfield could not be reached for comment for an interview for this story.

The event is a “choose what you want to pay” event. For more information go to Jacob’s Pillow’s website.

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