New Jacob's Pillow director is creating a landscape for dance

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BECKET — There is a special tranquility that only a Berkshires winter can bring to Jacob's Pillow, a National Historic Landmark and National Medal of Arts recipient.

Snow, pure and crystalline, carpets the woodlands and open spaces of the dance festival's 220-acres. The central paved walkway bisecting the campus from the main parking area to George Carter Road and the nearby Inside/Out stage is immaculately plowed. The barnlike buildings that line one side of the walkway are still and silent. Beyond, to the west, the Berkshire hills form a compelling backdrop to the snow-blanketed Inside/Out stage.

"It has its own climate here at the top of the mountain," says the Pillow's new director, Pamela Tatge, as she takes the last bite of a sandwich in her corner office on the second floor of the Pillow's administration building. "This whole site comes into the theaters with you."

Life for Tatge has been anything but tranquil since she took over the Pillow's top job in mid-April. The learning curve has been short. The 53-year-old mother of four travels — abroad to Israel, Cuba, Canada; closer to home between New York, the Becket house she is renting only 10 minutes from the Pillow, and the Madison, Conn. home she shares with her artist husband. She's had to get a feel for a new staff, her board, donors. She spent much of the summer getting to know Pillow audiences.

Above all, she's had to put together the 2017 season — her first; the Pillow's 85th — and she had until mid-November to do it.

And the way Tatge has assembled the season — which begins with the gala on June 17 and runs through Aug. 27 — the landscape, inside and out, will be a presence.

"I wanted to open up the site," Tatge said.

And so, Pillow favorite Eiko Otake will perform in an exclusive one-day-only engagement on July 22 — "A Body at the Pillow," the newest in her "A Body in Places" series. Eiko will perform her solo piece in various locations on the Pillow grounds.

Before then, at the very top of the season, June 21-23, Pilobolus Dance Theater will take up unprecedented residence on the Indoor/Outdoor stage with a specially commissioned, site-specific work.

"When was the last time we said to a choreographer 'This is your setting. What would you make in it?'" Tatge asked rhetorically. "Pilobolus felt like such a natural for this."

On Aug. 26, the Pillow's Great Lawn will be going to the dogs, literally, with Dog Dance, a free event for canines and their human companions, led by Elizabeth Johanson, associate artist of Dance Exchange and an artist educator for the Pillow's Curriculum in Motion program.

But Tatge isn't waiting until the season begins. Throughout spring and summer, the Pillow will be reaching out to the larger Berkshires community with pop-up dance happenings at Pittsfield's Third Thursday.

Indoors, two programs in the Doris Duke will involve reconfiguration of the 200-plus-seat black box theater. And, again, pre-season and offsite, the Pillow and Mass MoCA are bringing Bill T. Jones to North Adams in the spring with a commissioned work purposefully designed to be performed in Nick Cave's "Until" installation.

There is method to the seeming madness. Tatge wants to introduce a whole new audience to dance. She wants to bring people to dance who might not otherwise come. She wants to challenge some of the assumptions about the art form.

"I want people to think of the Pillow not only as a place to see dance, but to experience it; (to think of it) as a destination that appeals to all the senses."

At the same time, Tatge says, "I want to keep the breadth and depth of programming for which the Pillow is known. I also wanted to honor the past and look to dance-makers of the future."

Tatge says the 85th anniversary is the ideal opportunity to do just that.

And so, dance companies with long associations with the Pillow — Paul Taylor, Trisha Brown, Pilobolus — will be working alongside companies making rare U.S., let alone Pillow, appearances. Tatge's encouraging increased interaction between the experienced professionals performing at the Pillow and the young pre-professionals in the Pillow's school by contractually requiring that visiting dancers lunch with Pillow students.

It's a challenge — striking the right programming balance; fitting the right dance company into the right space. The Duke is flexible and intimate. The Shawn, Tatge says, "has to fill space, literally and figuratively."

The biggest challenge, Tatge acknowledges, is supporting the Pillow's roughly $6 million budget.

"We have 200 acres and two-thirds of our revenue is contributed; only one-third is earned. So that means we need to increase our donor base," Tatge said.

Tatge paused for a moment. She had not been looking for this job; it found her at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., where she had been director of a multipurpose arts venue for 16 years. And yet

"I always knew of the importance of this place," she said. "I have felt it in my soul in the eight months I've been here."


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