Saturday June 16, 2012

The Jacob’s Pillow dance festival, once referred to as a "hub and Mecca of dancing" by Time Maga zine, celebrates its 80th birthday today. The venerable Berkshire cultural institution founded by dance pioneer Ted Shawn remains contemporary and pioneering today, bringing in performers from around the globe while nurturing the next generation of dancers.

Mr. Shawn in 1931 purchased what had been a farm in Becket since the late 1700s as a retreat and two years later began his Tea Lecture Demonstrations as part of his effort to legitimize dancing as a career for men. The festival grew from there, in part through dance instructor Mary Washing ton Ball’s diversifying of the dance program. Mr. Shawn led the Pillow until his death in 1972 at the age of 80, building and solidifying its international reputation as a center for dance.

The festival experienced some financial problems in the years following Mr. Shawn’s death but director Sali Ann Kriegsman was instrumental in erasing a nearly $5 million debt in the late ‘90s. In her 14 years as executive director, Ella Baff has led a vibrant festival that will today celebrate its 80th birthday with a season-opening gala. Proceeds will help support various Jacob’s Pillow programs, which in addition to ballet include tap, dance for jazz and musical theater and a new workshop in dance photography.

Declared a National Historic Landmark in 2003 as "an exceptional cultural venue," the Jacob’s Pillow dance festival is now the longest running dance festival in the country. At a youthful 80, it shows no signs of conceding that status any time soon.