Take 5 with Jacob's Pillow Director Pamela Tatge

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BECKET — For the first time in its 88-year history, Jacob's Pillow's will be missing the ebb and flow of dance-loving audiences and performers moving in, around and through its verdant 220 acres in the Becket hills. Concern over the potentially lethal effects of COVID-19 has shut the internationally respected dance festival down. How, then, to maintain a Jacob's Pillow experience for devotees and neophytes? By going virtual.

Jacob's Pillow's executive and artistic director Pamela Tatge and her staff have spent the better part of two months putting together the Jacob's Pillow Virtual Festival..

Tatge discusses the what, how and why of the Virtual Festival in this Take Five interview.

1. On the whole, how would you characterize this festival?

Our intention was to try and represent the breadth and depth of all that Jacob's Pillow has to offer in a summer. That's why we focused on creating virtual experiences around performances, a new Master Class Series from The School at Jacob's Pillow, PillowTalks, and our intergenerational movement class Families Dance Together.

The performances that we're featuring are a blend of international and U.S.-based companies, they feature astonishing music and dance collaborations — Ronald K. Brown and Arturo O'Farrill; Tero Saarinen Company and The Boston Camerata — and provide the opportunity for artists, like a lesser known voice, like the Bereishit Dance Company from South Korea.

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In addition to the performances, the series of PillowTalks celebrates work of artists who would have been part of the 2020 Festival, Cleo Parker Robinson's 50th and Liz Lerman's "Wicked Bodies"; focuses on dialogue that we need to be having, like around the role of dance and activism (Meet Dr. Shamell Bell); and provides an opportunity for Black artists to speak on past practices and chances afoot in our country's institutions (Black Artists in Dance Today).

We also are excited to bring the world a favorite class, Families Dance Together, while at the same time, launch a brand new Master Class Series from The School at Jacob's Pillow.

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2. What were the particular challenges in creating the Virtual Festival?

Typically, in a summer, Jacob's Pillow features over 50 companies. It was extremely difficult to distill eight that showcased the range of what we do. Also, not all work that we have filmed at the Pillow translates to the small screen. It was a question of making sure that we selected works that will resonate on a virtual platform.

Finally, we tried to have each of the eight performances feel like an individual event. It was important to for us to frame past performances with content that is being produced now, including both the Pre-Show Talk and the Post-Show Talk with the artists wherever they may be in the world.

3. How long has it taken for you and your staff to put it together? When did planning begin?

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When we made the decision to cancel our Festival at the end of March, we knew that we were headed into some kind of a digital manifestation of the Festival. The shape of that Festival was not outlined until early May. It has taken two months to put this Festival together.

4. What led you to some of the specific performance choices?

It was so painful to discover that we would not be able to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Limon Dance Company this summer, so it became essential to open the Festival with a program that would honor the shared histories between Jacob's Pillow and the Limon Dance Company. We, of course, wanted to feature the work of this year's Jacob's Pillow Dance Award Winner Ronald K. Brown in a retrospective program that traces his history with our institution. Lastly, it's been a value to partner with area cultural institutions each summer and it was exciting for me to discover Tero Saarinen Company with The Boston Camerata based on Shaker music and dance. It's actually the only work on the program that I didn't have the chance to see when it was presented live, and represents one of the most seamless integrations of dancers and musicians that I've ever seen. The idea that we could present this streaming in collaboration with Hancock Shaker Village and keep our partnership going this summer was important to me.

5. What would you hope viewers will take away from their Virtual Festival Pillow experience?

What is most exciting to me, is how available this work will be to people from all around the world, some who may have never ventured here or will never have the opportunity to travel here. My hope is that whether people are long-time Pillow lovers or newcomers that they feel the quintessential energy that is Jacob's Pillow, a place that is grounded in its magnificent site, and serves as a crossroads for dance, a place where the past and the future of this form are connected.


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