A Whole Lot of ... Shaking

Monday, February 02
BECKET — From Radiohead to Rodgers and Hammerstein, classical ballet to jazz, tap and hip-hop to flamenco and work by dance giants Ulysses Dove and Merce Cunningham, Jacob's Pillow is presenting what executive director Ella Baff calls a "kaleidoscope" of dance this summer.

In assembling what she considers the most diverse season she's presented since coming to the Pillow in 1998, Baff said she wanted "to engage the public with how varied and how dynamic an art form dance is.

"Sometimes I feel the Pillow is a great big tent of dance. We will have dancers here this summer from age 15 to 90."

The generational line stretches from Merce Cunningham, who will celebrate his 90th birthday at the Pillow, to youthful tap artist Jason Samuels Smith, who, says Baff, "is a star all over the Internet. He hasn't had his moment yet." Smith and his A.C.G.I. (Anybody Can Get It) will be in the Doris Duke Theatre for two weeks in July.

The distinctive sounds of the influential alternative rock band, Radiohead, form the setting for "Radio and Juliet," a multi-media take on Shakespeare's romantic classic choreographed by Edward Clug, artistic director of the Slovenian dance company, Ballet Maribor, who will perform "Radio and Juliet" in the Ted Shawn Theatre July 1-5.

"Romeo and Juliet" is not the only classic getting a makeover this summer at the Pillow. Rodgers and Hammerstein's "The Sound of Music" gets a redo from choreographer Doug Elkins in the Doris Duke Theatre Aug. 26-30.

"Elkins," said Baff, "is a very strong choreographer with a very theatrical imagination. He approaches this work like a cabaret, using dancers and actors from all over the world. It's both homemade and sophisticated at the same time. It's funny and imaginative and also a bit of a commentary on this classic."

The Pillow's 2009 season officially kicks off June 20 with the annual Gala, which will feature a performance by Smith and a world premiere set on dancers from the Jacob's Pillow School.

One week earlier, on June 24, dancer, choregrapher and actress Marge Champion will be honored at a members-only 90th birthday celebration.

Among other season highlights:

  • Pacific Northwest Ballet in an exclusive-to-the-Pillow program of work by the late Ulysses Dove. "Pacific Northwest Ballet is one of the best companies in the world," Baff said, "and Ulysses Dove was one of the premier stars of Alvin Ailey's company. This is such a powerful program (with) big emotional resonance."

  • Flamenco artists Belén Maya and Rocio Molina in another Pillow exclusive, "Mujeres" ("Women").

  • Ballet Hispanico, with Tina Ramirez, who is stepping down as the renowned company's artistic director.

  • Cedar Lake Contemporay Ballet in a world premiere, "Orbo Novo"("New World") by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, who, Baff says, "is the sensation of Europe. He wanted to have this world premiere at the Pillow," Baff said by telephone from her home in Becket, "so this is quite an important dance event."

  • Doug Varone and Dancers in "Lux," set to music by Philip Glass. "This company has such a beautiful repertoire," Baff said. " 'Lux' may be (Varone's) best work."

    Baff said she wanted a season of primarily new work "that makes a contribution to the field and wakes an audience up as well.

    "I'm an audience member, too. There's a lot to discover."

    In the hope of encouraging others to make discoveries as well, especially given the weak economy, Baff said the Pillow is holding the line on single ticket prices this season.

    Single tickets in the 620-seat Ted Shawn will range from $10 for youths up to $58 for adults. In the 220-seat Doris Duke, tickets will range from $10 (again for youth) to $33 for adults.

    "We play to a very high percentage of capacity, nevertheless," Baff said.

    "Ticket sales cover 38 percent of our budget, which puts enormous fundraising pressures on us.

    "Even if you have no money at all, you can come to the Pillow and spend a day of dance, which means we have to raise a lot of money to provide all our free programs.

    "But the Pillow is not about money," Baff said, "it is about access."

    To reach Jeffrey Borak: jborak@berkshireeagle.com; (413) 496-6212


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