A priceless treasury of history and art, this movable feast could very well suck you in by surprise. The format is irresistible: Each clip is just a minute to a minute and a half long. You can find them by genre, era or artist (ranging from a 2010 solo by Kyle Abraham to a Zaccho Dance Theatre work that springs from the Pillow’s history as a stop on the Underground Railroad).
What makes the site so addictive is that the performances are expertly edited, with close-in camera work, and each is accompanied by a pithy biographical write-up. Norton Owen, the Pillow’s director of preservation, says he and his staff did not want “simply to dump stuff online.”
“We were trying to put ourselves in the shoes — or the desk chair — of people looking online,” says Owen. “Would people really want to look at an entire dance by Mark Morris or Paul Taylor, or do they just want a hint of something that intrigues them? I think it’s the latter. And if you say, ‘I think that’s wonderful and I want to see the whole thing,’ well, maybe you should go to the theater.”
The archive is not yet an exhaustive chronicle of Pillow performances. It includes excerpts from two or three works per year, going back to a 1937 clip of Pillow founder Ted Shawn, with his all-male group, shirtless and in wonderfully billowing pants. But for 2010 and this past summer, there’s a snippet from each of the 20 troupes who performed.
“I’m pretty picky,” says Owen. “I want to have things that are satisfying, so there’s a sense of beginning, middle and end.” That’s not easy in 90 seconds, but the result is singularly handsome — and rare. Especially valuable is a fragment of a 1942 performance by Anna Duncan, one of Isadora Duncan’s adopted daughters and disciples known as “Isadorables.” No authenticated footage of Isadora Duncan herself exists, so these few seconds, filmed in color against the open doors of the Ted Shawn Theatre with the surrounding trees in full foliage, are a precious link to the modern-dance pioneer.
Owen’s staff aims to add one new excerpt a week, digging into the far past as well as scouring recent seasons. The greater goal, he says, is to whet appetites for live dance performances.
“What we’re trying to do is present something that’s like a little jewel, in the way that movie previews should make you want to see the movie,” says Owen. “We want to excite people about it.”