Sunday, June 23, 2024

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ON DANCE: An interview with Pamela Tatge, artistic director of Jacob’s Pillow

“We are initiating a program of commissioning works that draw attention to the environmental splendor of our Berkshire home, thereby illuminating our responsibility to steward this great landscape on behalf of future generations.” -- Jacob’s Pillow Director Pamela Tatge

The following is a conversation with Pamela Tatge, artistic director of Jacob’s Pillow. I am sure you can hear the warmth and openness in her voice as well as a profound understanding of the dance world, the Pillow and its relationship to the Berkshires. I hope you join her at the Pillow this summer. You will be treated to her curtain speeches that will guide you through even the most challenging work.

LT: There are many names I am familiar with and companies that I love and many many I do not know which is why I am so excited about the upcoming season.
You know that I am most interested in artists that are pushing boundaries, but that is not for everyone so let’s first talk about performances that are the most accessible… performances for people who have not been dancegoers but are interested in finding out more about the art form.

PT: There are many wonderful points of entry into dance for audiences this summer, particularly for people who are less familiar with contemporary dance. First, the season is bookended by two virtuosic and beautiful ballet companies, Miami City Ballet and The Washington Ballet, doing works by the masters like George Balanchine, as well as some of today’s top ballet choreographers including Christopher Wheeldon and Alexei Ratmansky. For tap lovers out there, there is a wonderful buffet curated by Michelle Dorrance titled TIRELESS: A Tap Dance Experience. Ballet Hispanico presents a program of joyful work danced to a musical score that includes Afro-Cuban and Latin dance sounds. The evening will feature a Pillow-commissioned work based in flamenco vocabulary from Annabelle Lopez-Ochoa, one of today’s leading ballet choreographers. If audiences have never experienced the magic that is the Paul Taylor Dance Company, then this would be the summer to do so. They are presenting three iconic masterworks, including the very first piece of contemporary dance that I ever saw, Esplanade (1975).

Pamela Tatge (left) on the Doris Duke Theatre stage with choreographer John Heginbotham and artist Maira Kalman. Photo: David Dashiell
Pamela Tatge (left) on the Doris Duke Theatre stage with choreographer John Heginbotham and illustrator and designer Maira Kalman. Photo: David Dashiell

LT: There are reasons to visit the Pillow other than what is happening in the theaters…

PT: Yes, absolutely. This summer we have a series of free performances on the Inside/Out stage featuring companies from ten states and three countries, including Samuel Samways, who hails from Belo-Horizonte, Brazil. He is the winner of our first-ever viewers’ choice “Chance to Dance” contest that was an idea you presented to me. We are initiating a program of commissioning works that draw attention to the environmental splendor of our Berkshire home, thereby illuminating our responsibility to steward this great landscape on behalf of future generations. First, Pilobolus creates a work for the Inside/Out stage commissioned by the Pillow in honor of our 85th Anniversary, and Eiko Otake will take audiences on a journey through the grounds in A Body at the Pillow.
The Pillow is also striving to take dance “off the mountain,” so to speak, and into Pittsfield. Pillow Pop-Ups is a new series that will take place in conjunction with every Third Thursday festival on North Street from May through September. In addition to performances, the Pillow provides access to over 60 talks and film screenings, community classes Monday through Friday at 8am, and community master classes with many of the visiting companies. We always remind people that they can spend the whole day at the Pillow — have a picnic, observe a class at The School, attend a talk — in addition to seeing performances. Local restaurants No. Six Depot and Haven provide locally sourced menus that were a big hit last summer. We are delighted to have them back for this year’s festival.

LT: Since there are many names new to me, which ones are most innovative? And how should people approach their work?

PT: Innovation manifests itself in many different ways in this summer’s programming, from Annabelle Lopez-Ochoa’s new work for Ballet Hispanico that imagines what would happen if flamenco dancers touched each other, to Faye Driscoll’s imaginative and ground-breaking work Thank You for Coming: Attendance that invites the audience into the action in a thoughtful, inclusive, and joyous way. Compagnie Marie Chouinard, making their Pillow debut this summer, has been innovating at the juncture of movement and visual art for many years; their engagement at the Pillow is no exception. Camille A. Brown, winner of last year’s Jacob’s Pillow Dance award, takes the social dancing of young girls and places it on the concert stage in a way that gives us a portal into the joys and struggles of African American young women. I could go on and on.

*   *   *

I am sure Pamela will go on and on and I truly look forward to all that she brings to the Pillow. This year the Pillow celebrates its 85th anniversary. I was the Director of the Pillow when we celebrated the 50th anniversary. It was a celebration of an illustrious past. It was also filled with prayers and hope. Although I managed to build Inside/Out and the Studio Theater (the Doris Duke) despite financial challenges and offer new programming that increased audiences and revenue, my tenure was a challenge and the future was far from secure. Soon after the 50th Sam Miller joined as Managing Director. That turned out to be a blessing. When I left Sam had the courage and the vision to negotiate a bond allowing the Pillow to deal with severe issues plaguing the physical plant. Sam was followed by SaliAnn Kreigsman who strengthened the Pillow board and, with Neil Chrisman as chair, secured the Pillow’s future. And that promise was fulfilled for the next 17 years under the inspired leadership of Ella Baff.

It is especially heartwarming to me that Pamela Tatge is at the helm for this anniversary. She has assembled a season that sparkles and is sure to delight. I knew of the imagination and integrity of the Tatge family long before I met Pamela. I worked with Pam’s sister Catherine years ago on an experiment in television that was to become CBS/Cable. So when I discovered that the new director of the Pillow was Cathy’s sister, I knew we were in for unbounded energy, amazing vision and assuredly, a remarkable growth spurt. I am sure after attending this season you will share my enthusiasm.


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