At a time of grave concern among arts groups, with federal funding for the arts hanging in the balance, the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival is ramping up. Director Pamela Tatge announced today a five-year plan to open the Becket, Mass., site year-round for choreographer residencies, the creation of new works and workshops. Additionally, two prominent dance artists have joined the board, and Tatge has begun asking dancers to curate performances during the festival’s 10-week summer schedule.
“Choreographers need more time and space to develop work,” Tatge said in an interview. “We’re leveraging the resources we have and using the status of Jacob’s Pillow to support the field.”
Tatge, who has just completed her first year as director, referred to Jacob’s Pillow as “national hallowed ground for dance,” and that’s not an overstatement. The mountain-top festival celebrates its 85th anniversary this summer, making it the country’s longest-running international dance festival. Set on 220 acres in the Berkshires, it’s a National Historic Landmark, with a $13 million endowment and a $6.6 million annual budget. This summer it will present more than 50 U.S. and international troupes for some 350 performances.
This year’s budget represents an increase of $300,000 over 2016, and the extra funding will go toward “Vision ’22,” Tatge’s plan of expansion through 2022. It includes a year-round Pillow Lab, with residencies for 10 to 15 choreographers each year. These have already gotten underway, and the results of one were unveiled this past weekend at the season-opening gala. It was a work-in-progress, genre-bending collaboration of New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns and hip-hop dancers Honji Wang and Sebastain Ramirez.
Tatge also is bringing artists into the decision-making at the Pillow. Former New York City Ballet star Wendy Whelan and the highly respected modern-dance choreographer Kyle Abraham have joined the board. Acclaimed tap dancer Michelle Dorrance curated an upcoming program titled “Tireless,” June 28-July 2, featuring tap dancers from Japan, Chicago, San Francisco and elsewhere.
The Jacob’s Pillow School will have a new home; the $5.5 million studio under construction will be almost double the size of the summer training program’s current space. Tatge also outlined plans to “bring dance off the mountain” and into Berkshire-area public schools. She said she’s encouraged by the $100,000 increase in individual giving that came in 2016 and by the “awesome potential” she sees at the Pillow — potential she is committed to realizing regardless of the funding climate.
“You can’t put your head in the ground,” Tatge said. “In times of economic uncertainty, what you need, I believe, is a winning vision and a pragmatic sense of what you can achieve.”