Jacob's Pillow Dance

Jacob's Pillow is a dance center, school and performance space located in Becket, Massachusetts, in the Berkshires. The organization is known for the oldest internationally acclaimed Summer dance festival in the United States. The facility also includes a professional school and extensive archives as well as year-round community programs. The facility itself was listed as a National Historic Landmark District in 2003.

Jacob's Pillow
The Ted Shawn Theatre
LocationGeorge Carter Rd.
Becket, Massachusetts, United States
Coordinates42°15′52″N 73°7′5″W
Area220 acres (89 ha)
ArchitectJoseph Franz
Architectural styleFederal, Bungalow/Craftsman
NRHP reference #00001458
Significant dates
Added to NRHPFebruary 5, 2001
May 27, 2003
Designated NHLDMay 27, 2003

Mission statement

The Jacob's Pillow mission is to support dance creation, presentation, education, and preservation; and to engage and deepen public appreciation and support for dance.[2]


The site of Jacob's Pillow in Becket, Massachusetts was originally settled in 1790 by the Carter family. Because of the zigzagging road leading to the hilltop property, it became known as "Jacob's Ladder", after the Biblical story, and a pillow-shaped rock on the property prompted the farm to acquire the name "Jacob's Pillow".

The farm was purchased in 1931 by modern dance pioneer Ted Shawn as a dance retreat. Shawn and his wife, Ruth St. Denis, led the highly regarded Denishawn Company, which had popularized dance forms rooted in theater and cultural traditions outside European ballet. They were influential in training a host of dance pioneers, including Martha Graham, Charles Weidman, Doris Humphrey, and Jack Cole.

Shawn's objective was to establish a dance organization for American men. The early corps of his all-male company built many of the structures on the Jacob's Pillow campus. This effort came to an end in 1940 with the advent of the Second World War; Shawn's company disbanded and most of its members joined the military.

Significant debt forced Shawn to consider sale of the property. In 1940 he leased the property to dance teacher Mary Washington Ball, but her summer festival was also financially unsuccessful. British ballet stars Alicia Markova and Anton Dolin learned of Shawn's financial difficulties, and decided to acquire the property. With financial backing and fundraising support from millionaire Reginald Wright, $50,000 was raised to purchase the property and construct a theater building. The summer dance festival was revived, and Shawn was retained as its director until his death in 1972.

In 2003, the Jacob's Pillow property was declared a National Historic Landmark District by the federal government as "an exceptional cultural venue that holds value for all Americans." It is the only dance entity in the U.S. to receive this honor.[3] In March 2011, Jacob's Pillow was named a recipient of the 2010 National Medal of Arts, a national award of distinction.[4]

The Festival

The Pillow presents international dance in many forms, styles, and traditions, and approximately 200 free events each season, including performances, lectures, tours, films, exhibits, and talks with artists from all over the world, culminating in approximately 80,000 visitors annually.

Pillow founder Ted Shawn was instrumental in beginning the careers of Martha Graham and Jack Cole, and the Pillow has continued this mentoring role in the careers of artists such as Alvin Ailey, José Limón, and Mark Morris. Companies such as Dance Theatre of Harlem, the Parsons Dance Company, and Trey McIntyre Project made their debuts at the Pillow, and international groups such as The Royal Danish Ballet, Nederlands Dans Theatre, Black Grace and Hofesh Shechter Company have made their U.S. debuts here. World premieres have been commissioned from choreographers such as Merce Cunningham and Paul Taylor, and artists such as Margot Fonteyn and Mikhail Baryshnikov have been showcased in works.

Performances at Jacob's Pillow take place on three stages. The Ted Shawn Theatre has a capacity of 620 reserved seats. The Doris Duke Studio Theatre, built in 1990 as a flexible, experimental space, has 220 seats. Talks by Pillow Scholars-in-Residence take place before every performance in these two theaters. Additionally, Post-Show Talks happen in the Ted Shawn Theatre on Thursdays and in the Doris Duke Studio Theatre on Fridays, giving audiences an opportunity to engage with artists in moderated Q&A sessions.

The third stage is Inside/Out, which presents free performances of established and emerging artists from all over the world in an informal, outdoor venue set against a panoramic vista of the Berkshire hills. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays feature emerging artists, and Saturdays showcase the dancers of The School at Jacob's Pillow. Each performance at Inside/Out concludes with a Q&A session with the artists. Artist featured in Inside/Out include: Pilobolus Dance Theater, Nadine Bommer Dance Company, Reggie "Regg Roc" Gray, Michelle Dorrance with Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, Dušan Týnek Dance Theatre, Abarukas, Manuel Vignoulle, and Laurie M. Taylor.

Another facet of Jacob's Pillow's ongoing educational efforts is the PillowTalk series, which covers the art of dance and artists performing each week through intimate panel discussions, interviews, film screenings, and book signings. Exhibits are free and open to the general public, as are The Archives, which offer the opportunity to view videos, read books, access the Pillow's computer catalog, or view The Pillow's permanent collections of programs and photographs. Free historical walking tours are available to the public weekly during the summer.

The School at Jacob's Pillow

The School at Jacob's Pillow's conservatory-style curriculum includes five programs: Ballet, Cultural Traditions, Contemporary Traditions, Jazz/Musical Theater, and Choreographers’ Lab. The dancers’ schedule includes six days each week with four professional-level studio classes each day, coaching sessions, weekly performances for the public, master classes with Festival artists, talks led by Scholars-in-Residence, study assignments in the Pillow's rare and extensive Archives, and attendance at all Festival performances and events.

The School at Jacob's Pillow is known for its faculty. Faculty of The School at Jacob's Pillow have included Susan Jaffe, Amanda McKerrow, Chet Walker, Nikolaj Hubbe, Anna-Marie Holmes, Milton Myers, Katherine Dunham, Rennie Harris, Matt Mattox, Soledad Barrio, Tim Rushton, Finis Jhung, Martin Santangelo, Mercedes Ellington, Stephanie Saland, Victor Plotnikov, Annie-B Parson, Paul Lazar, Aszure Barton, Helen Pickett, Banu Ogan, Mr. Wiggles, Marjory Smarth, Dana Moore, and Ric Ryder.

Alumni of The School include MacArthur Grant-winner Meredith Monk, choreographer Mia Michaels, former Alvin Ailey Dance Theater and Paul Taylor Dance Company principal Linda Kent, artistic director of the Royal Danish Ballet Nikolaj Hübbe, recent winner of FOX's television show So You Think You Can Dance, Joshua Allen, and Robert Swinston of Merce Cunningham Dance Company.

Community programs

Jacob's Pillow's Community Dance Programs annually reach more than 3,000 Berkshire children, students, educators, special needs groups, continuing education adult learners, and dancers of all ages and levels of experience. The programs take place at the Pillow, in schools and other settings, and are designed to connect a wide range of participants with the intellectual, emotional, inspirational, as well as physical, world of dance.

Each year, Berkshire County students and teachers choreograph dances to explore topics required for mastery in academic classes, including science, math, history, and communication. The Jacob's Pillow Curriculum in Motion program, places Pillow artists in the classroom to develop and teach curricula that meet state and national arts and academic standards.

The Pillow partners with community organizations throughout Berkshire County to provide access to dance activities and learning from Festival artists and staff. A year-round partnership with the Railroad Street Youth Project promotes teen leadership and community involvement through the development of choreographic work. During the Festival, the Pillow partners with Berkshire Institute for Lifelong Learning; Elderhostel Programs; and the Boston Symphony Orchestra's Days In The Arts and Shakespeare & Co. Arts for All programs. The Pillow provides these groups with dance classes, guided tours, performance and School observation opportunities, and access to artists and staff.

The archives

The core collections preserved in the archives at Jacob's Pillow were originally assembled by founder Ted Shawn. Materials have been continually added since the 1930s by volunteers from the Pillow Board and staff. In 1991, Jacob's Pillow created the position of Director of Preservation to direct the activities and maintenance of the Archives. The Archives at Jacob's Pillow has approximately 6,000 films and videos from 1894 to present, 45,000 historic dance photos and negatives, 313,000 pages of unique printed materials, 27 trunks of costumes dating from 1915, and 2,000 books. The Archives is one component of the Pillow's Preservation Program, which organizes exhibits exploring various aspects of dance, oversees issues concerning the National Historic Landmark site, and records the ongoing activities of the Festival.

The Archives is internationally recognized as a major repository of dance materials. Access to the research facility is open to the public year-round by appointment and is available during the summer season from noon until the end of each performance, six days a week. The Archives collection is electronically catalogued, and much of it is accessible through the Pillow's website.

Blake's Barn is an 18th-century structure that was relocated and reconfigured specifically for preservation activity. This facility was donated by stage and screen dancer/actress Marge Champion and is named in honor of her late son. In addition to a central area for exhibits and lectures, the building houses a reading room with video stations providing access to the moving image collection. The lower level contains temperature-controlled storage areas and video production equipment.

Jacob's Pillow remains at the forefront of the dance preservation field partly through its active participation in the Dance Heritage Coalition, an alliance of the country's eight major dance collections including the Library of Congress, Harvard Theatre Collection, and the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. The Coalition is currently chaired by Norton Owen, the Pillow's longtime Director of Preservation.

In 2008, the Pillow was invited by the Nonprofit Finance Fund, with support from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, to participate in the five-year Leading for the Future: Innovative Support for Artistic Excellence Initiative. With this funding, the Archives’ resources can be used in ways that add context and deepen understanding about individual artists and dance traditions, and help audiences around the world understand new and evolving forms.

In 2011, Jacob's Pillow launched Jacob's Pillow Dance Interactive, an online resource of video clips curated from the Archives in Becket. The archive features performances that have taken place at the festival from 1937 to 2010, including footage rarely seen. This user-friendly free resource allows the user to browse dance footage by artist, genre, and era. The director of preservation, Norton Owen, curates the collection. Each entry includes a video clip, an informative paragraph describing the dancer/choreographer, and an artist portrait.[5][6]

See also


  1. "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. March 13, 2009.
  2. "Jacob's Pillow Dance Mission Statement". Jacob's Pillow Dance. Archived from the original on 27 January 2011. Retrieved 15 January 2011.
  3. http://www.jacobspillow.org/exhibits-archives/history/
  4. Bolger, Toni. "Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival Awarded National Medal of Arts". "Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival", March 1st 2011, accessed July 12th 2011.
  5. Goodman, Stephanie. "Dance Along with Twyla and Other Online Nuggets", The New York Times, March 29, 2011, accessed July 12, 2011.
  6. Hulbert, Mariclare. Jacob's Pillow Launches New Online Resource, Jacob's Pillow Dance, March 28, 2011, accessed July 12, 2011.
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