Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

Jacob's Pillow tradition links student and performer

On stage in the Ted Shawn Theater at Jacob's Pillow, 10 members of the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company joined hands in "MArimba," a work that constantly reshapes movement patterns like light refracts in a prism. Waves of energy pass through the dancers' bodies outward to encompass space, the audience, and the Jacob's Pillow students who are working that night as ticket takers, poster vendors, and guides for parking cars.

The students had watched the Lubovitch company in performace and rehearsals earlier in the week, but now they were part of the collective staff of the Pillow, dedicated to sharing the experience.

About these ads

The Lar Lubovitch Dance Company appeared during the opening week of the just-ended season at Jacob's Pillow. Both "Marimba," which began the proram, and "Cavalcade," the closing work, are set to music by Steve Reich. He composes as Lubovitch makes dances, with linked combinations which come back onto themselves.

The bond between performers and students has been the central image for Jacob's Pillow since Ted Shawn first laid the paths between the log-cabin dance studios in the Becket woods during the 1930s. On this 750-acre farm, he and his men dancers cleared the land, built the cabins, and helped lay the foundations for men in American dance, summer arts in the Berkshires, and seasonal dance festivals.

Since Shawn's passing in 1972 there has been a succession of directors for one year each, then five years under Norman Walker, until 1980 when Liz Thompson was chosen to head Jacob's Pillow.

A small, curly-haired vigorous woman, Thompson brings to mind a perky poodle, determined to get her way despite the obstacles. Perhaps to counter this impression, she invited me to hold the interview on the upstairs front porch of the main house at the Pillow, with her 180-pound Great Dane standing guard over our conversation.

Now in her second year of management, Thompsom has started to make changes. "I'm trying to make an organic structure, based on shawn's tenets, to fit the environment." She has opened up the Pillow in various ways to the public by adding a shop, an expanded boutique, and a restaurant selling light suppers and a spectacular fudge pie served with whipped cream. She has welcomed the neighbors by instituting "Town nights" for residents of Stockbridge, Lenox, Lee, and Becket.

The Outreach Program, a series of performances by the students in community hospitals, camps, and shopping malls has been extended. "I sense a more vibrant interest, a more welcoming atmosphere."

In addition to running the school for 83 students in residence, Thompson's main job is to produce the nine weeks, plus a postseason weekend, of concerts which change each Tuesday. Constricted by a tight budget, tastes of summer sojourners in the Berkshires, and the guidelines set up by Shawn, Thompson is feeling her way to airing her own choices. "I'm taking some chances artistically," she admits "but it is exciting to see what is happening."

About these ads

Coming up for Thompson is the 50th anniversary season of 1982 which will combine past and future. Two friends of Shawn's, dance critic Walter Terry and Donald Saddler, former dancer and well-known choreographer of Broadway musicals, will help in producing special evenings in Boston and New York this winter. One possibility: an evening combining Shawn's works danced by leading male dancers.

Thompson believes in Jacob's Pillow so much that she has stated, "It doesn't matter who is director here. The energy, the magic, has accumulated over 49 years. There is no need to change it, only help it grow."

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.