Pillow Talk

A National Historic Landmark gears up for the summer

If Ted Shawn's ghost dropped in on Jacob's Pillow during its 75th anniversary season, he might execute a manly jump for joy. Roaming the 163 acres in Becket, Massachusetts, where he founded a company, school, and festival, he'd recognize the stone dining house built by his Men Dancers during the 1930s, the wooden cabins where students still sleep, and the barn theater begun in 1941. But much would amaze him, especially the throngs of people peeking in at classes, listening to lectures, streaming into two theaters, or taking their kids to the free Inside/Out presentations.

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Dancers from Shen Wei's company dancing in the Tea Garden (2006).
photo: Stefanie Motta
The morning before the 10-week festival opens with Nina Ananiashvili and the State Ballet of Georgia, the Pillow is bustling. Students in the ballet program (one of several diverse three-week sessions) are already at the barre. In the old farmhouse, Jacob's Pillow director Ella Baff ruminates on the summer ahead. "I don't want the Pillow to be a place of nostalgia, God forbid. I want the essence of it to be purely felt, but I want it to be alert and agile and buoyant—doing new things, and things that people may not see anyplace else." Continuity and contrast turn her on. The Royal Danish Ballet has a history at the Pillow that goes back to Shawn's day. The current artistic director, Frank Andersen, and his wife, Eva Kloborg, performed here. Their son, Sebastian, heads the group of RDB dancers on view July 11 through 15. Bournonville masterpieces share the bill with a premiere by up-and-comer Louise Midjord.

Across the road, Nanette Glushak, director of the Ballet de Toulouse, teaches ballet-program women a fiendishly tricky passage from Balanchine's Theme and Variations, telling tales of Mr. B. (in whose company she danced), and offering such useful advice as "When you don't squeeze your ass on these things, you have no feet at the bottom." Waiting to rehearse the male solo from the Corsaire pas de deux, the men in the program (some of them already professionals) rehash an unexpected challenge of another sort: On the previous day, several of them had swum out into Laurel Lake and rescued a drowning boy.

In another studio, Ananiashvili and her Georgians finish an arduous company class, then go straight into an onstage rehearsal and blast through a "Grand Divertissement" drawn from Marius Petipa's Don Quixote. During one pause, Ananiashvili demonstrates a point to a female soloist. In an instant, the great ballerina turns into a happy, impetuous girl, and the movement comes miraculously alive. It's not just the other dancer who learns something important. Behind me in the nearly empty barn theater, Shawn's ghost whispers, "This is what it's all about."

For information: http://www.jacobspillow.org

 
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