Dance festival's new director, Pamela Tatge, reaches out from Becket hills

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BECKET >> Jacob's Pillow's new executive director Pamela Tatge spent the first five weeks on the job living on campus.

"It's not easy to find a rental up here," she said during an interview in her second floor corner office in the Pillow's administrative building.

She and her visual artist husband had only just moved into a rental(they have four adult children — two from her husband's previous marriage; two of their own). Still, she said, "to wake up here, on these grounds, early every morning, well "

It's not a job the 53-year-old arts administrator was looking for. The job came looking for her in a search for someone to replace Ella Baff, Jacob's Pillow's executive and artistic director for the past 17 years.

Dance played a key role.

"Dance is an underdeveloped form in this country," she said. "It became my passion at Wesleyan.

"There really was no one place in the community to see contemporary dance," she said. so, she made on at Wesleyan and brought in Camille A. Brown, David Dorfman, Liz Lerman, Dorrance Dance, Ronald K. Brown, among a host of others.

"Dance can address social justice themes in ways language can't," she said.

When Tatge was contacted about the Pillow opening, she says she began thinking about the possibility. She had just seen the first four students from the university's Institute for Curatorial Practice in Performance — a first-of-its-kind-post-graduate program she created in 2010 with Samuel A. Miller, a former Jacob's Pillow director — receive their Masters degrees. She said she hadn't wanted to leave Wesleyan until that point, at least, had been reached. Now that it had, Tatge agreed to meet with the members of the Pillow search committee and was as impressed with them as they turned out to be with her. It was not hard to accept the offer. "It is such an honor," she said.

"It's a big job," she added with a big exhale. She was thrust, almost instantly, into planning the 2017 season. But, she said, the job "is so much more than just the Festival," she said."There is so much to learn. So many people who know so much. I really have to come up to speed."

She credits general manager Andrea Sholler with guiding her through a period of adjustment that has included what she calls a "listening tour" — one-on-one meetings with board members, staffers, members of the broader national dance community. She's also contacting the artistic directors of various Berkshire County cultural organizations, meeting with them on their turf to get a clear sense of the county's cultural inventory and see first hand how these organizations do what they do. She also wants to formulate ways in which the Pillow can work with them. It's called "community" and it is key to much of what Tatge wants to accomplish here.

"It's important for the Pillow to go off-site," she said.

To that end, Jacob's Pillow is partnering with several social service organizations and municipalities, chiefly the City of Pittsfield, in a recently announced initiative to bring the Brooklyn-based Urban Bush Women to the Berkshires for a four-week residency that involves free community workshops, talks, demonstrations, classes and other events, many of them at the Pillow, beginning Tuesday and running into mid-July.

"We are deeply invested in this county," Tatge said. "The arts are one of the selling points of the Berkshires brand.

"There are possibilities in Berkshire County. We (Jacob's Pillow) have to go to other people. The arts show us our best selves and I think if we can figure that out, we can be a model for other places."

But there also is work to be done at home, at the Jacob's Pillow campus, not the least of which is launching an 85th anniversary capital campaign next year, the centerpiece of which is construction of a new dance studio.

As eager as Tatge is to reach out to the Berkshires community, she is looking at ways in which she can draw the community to the attractive, rural 220-acre site that's been declared a National Historic Landmark.

For Tatge, Nothing is more emblematic than the Inside/Out stage. With its free 6 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday performances, the Inside/Out attractions are meant to appeal to a broad, cross-section — students, families, dance cognoscenti, dance novices — in a welcoming, informal atmosphere. Tatge loves what she calls the "democracy" of the outdoor space.

Tatge is keenly in tune with the Pillow's rich history. It's inescapable.

"This is a sacred place for dance," she says. "Every company that comes here becomes an immediate part of the dance legacy in this country. That needs to be sustained and preserved,"

She wants artists to come to Becket to "develop work and/or undertake research in uninterrupted residencies.

Tatge said that at Weskeyan, she tried to listen to the appetites of her students, particularly when it came to dance.

She's still listening, acting on what she hears, eager to whet other people's appetites.

Making dance, she believes, is about making connections, communication, with others, with ourselves.

"Dance," she says, "is an important way to know ourselves and the world.


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