BECKET, MASS. >> By Richard Houdek

Special to Berkshires Week

& Shires of Vermont

Summer beckons vigorous dance activity in the region, in the Berkshires and the Shires of Vermont.

As Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival looks forward to its 83rd season, enthusiasm is running high.

"I don't usually talk in hyperbole," said Ella Baff, the Pillow's executive and artistic director, "but we have some of the most spectacular dancers I've ever seen. So it will be a joy to share these discoveries with our audiences."

One of those joys for her is Danil Simkins' "Intensio" (July 22-26).

"He is the super-star of the American Ballet Theatre, and most of the dancers are from [ABT]" she said.

Simkins joins Celine Cassone of Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal in four premieres by the choreographers Alexander Ekman, Gregory Dolbashian, Jorma Elo and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa.

She highlighted Big Dance Theater's "Alan Smithee Directed This Play: Triple Feature" for fans of contemporary theater.

The Pillow will welcome back Ballet BC, Dorrance Dance with Toshi Reagon and BIGlovely and — launching into its 90th season — the Martha Graham Dance Co.

Baff also hailed the Sarasota Ballet, making its first appearance here from Florida. "It's like a rock star coming," she said.


The Pillow will also join in the "Lift Ev'ry Voice," a summer-long Berkshire festival. Norton Owen, the director of preservation, will lead a tour of the Pillow grounds, focusing on its Underground Railroad history and the African and African-American artists who have contributed to the success of the festival over the years.

Later in "Lift Ev'ry Voice," the Olga Dunn Dance Company will offer an evening of movement on July 25 with seven pieces inspired by gospel and percussion music, said Dunn, the group's founder and artistic director. The dancers will perform in the company's new home, the New Space Stage, at the old train station in Great Barrington, using the melody 'Lift Ev'ry Voice' as a signature piece. "It's a very strong African dance work with eight dancers," Dunn said. "The dance includes a trio we did at the Mahaiwe at a gospel concert in 2012 and five other pieces, all reflecting the influences of African-American music. This is a festival that has a lot of meaning for us."

"Olga has a great way of choreographing those dances so that the movements have an undertone of em- powerment," said Marla Robertson, one of Dunn's dancers and a member of the board of directors of "Lift Ev'ry Voice."

Robertson described Project Elevate, a summer of enrichment program in- volving at least 20 young performers who will take part in the Underground Railroad tour, a session at Mass MoCA on the author James Baldwin, workshops in identity, arts and crafts, conversations on how the young people see themselves and a seminar on W.E.B. Du Bois, the sociologist, historian, Civil Rights activist and writer.