A delicate dance: Veterans captivated by very carefully planned day at Jacob's Pillow

Gilbert Carr takes a selfie in 2017 in front of the Doris Duke Theatre at Jacob’s Pillow in Becket, where Soldier On members saw performances of Roy Assaf’s “Six Years Later” and “The Hill.”

BECKET — Jacob’s Pillow’s Doris Duke Theatre, destroyed by fire Tuesday, opened in summer 1990 with a full season of performances, realizing the vision of Liz Thompson, the nonprofit’s executive director.

“The Pillow was founded as a place for dancers, to make dances, teach and communicate with audiences,” Thompson told The New York Times’ Anna Kisselgoff in a July 22, 1990, interview. “Artists in many festivals need nurturing. It is a growth process for their needs.”

Review: Pursuits of happiness at Jacob's Pillow

From left, violinist-composer Alexander Balanescu, and dancers Estela Merlos, Eryck Brahmania and Mathieu Geffre of Umanoove/Didy Veldman, in “The Happiness Project” at the Doris Duke Theatre at Jacob’s Pillow in Becket in July 2019.

The Doris Duke Theatre — then named Studio/Theatre — was emblematic of that growth. It was conceived as a place for new, adventurous work. And it seemed to pay off.

Sam Miller, who succeeded Thompson as executive director in 1990, told The Berkshire Eagle in a March 3, 1991, interview that audience response to the Studio/Theatre’s inaugural season “exceeded our expectations in terms of attendance. Audiences loved it as a place to see dance and our artists also loved the space.”

“We also found that about two-thirds of the audience that attended events in the Studio-Theatre were not going to the Ted Shawn performances,” Miller said, referring to the Pillow’s larger theater.

“Construction of the Duke enabled us to greatly expand our programming,” Norton Owen, the Pillow’s director of preservation, said in an email. “Building the Duke ... enabled us to show some of that more ground-breaking work in more appropriate circumstances.”

'Community' takes on new meaning in work of Compania Sharon Fridman at Jacob's Pillow

Compania Sharon Fridman in “Free Fall” at the Doris Duke Theatre at Jacob’s Pillow in Becket in 2018.

Owen cites the theater’s function as a soundstage for the filming of the Mark Morris/Yo-Yo Ma collaboration, “Falling Down Stairs,” as among the more memorable ways in which the theater was used.

Over the years, the roughly 220-seat theater underwent name changes, from Studio/Theatre (1990-1997) to Doris Duke Studio Theatre (1998-2008) in recognition of a grant the Pillow received in 1997 from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. In 2009, the name became simply the Doris Duke Theatre.

Among the dance companies that have appeared in the theater since its 1990 season opening are:

Cie Herv-Gil, Vanaver Caravan, Timothy Buckley, ODC/San Francisco, Wendy Perron, Eiko & Koma, Ralph Lemon Company, Susan Marshall & Company, Danny Grossman Dance Company, Ronald K. Brown/Evidence, Trisha Brown Company, Urban Bush Women, Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, Meredith Monk, Donald Byrd/The Group, David Dorfman Dance, Bebe Miller Company, Jazzdance by Danny Buraczeski, Philadanco, Jessica Lang Dance, Doug Elkins, Dorrance Dance, Carmen de Lavallade and Kyle Abraham.

A delicate dance: Veterans captivated by very carefully planned day at Jacob's Pillow

In 2019, Ernest Hughey, beside E.J. Schlup, center, and John McClendon, studies the dance photos on display on the outdoor porch of the Doris Duke Theatre at Jacob’s Pillow in Becket.

In its first season, the theater hosted work by Alien Comic, Mark Anderson, Molissa Fenley, Joseph Holmes Dance Theatre, Liz Kerman & the Dance Exchange, Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago, O Vertigo Dance, Russian Village, Carmelito Tropicana and Gayle Tufts with Tom Judson.

Construction began in 1989, during a period of extensive redesign and renovation of the Jacob’s Pillow campus.

Firefighters work to snuff embers at Jacob's Pillow

Firefighters work to extinguish a fire Tuesday at the Doris Duke Theatre at Jacob’s Pillow in Becket.

Thompson, the executive director who guided the project, also was responsible for, among other things, creation of the Pillow’s Inside/Out performance area.

Jeffrey Borak can be reached at jborak@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6212