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After a lost summer, Jacob’s Pillow will return for a full season in 2021

The summer season at Jacob's Pillow will include a performance of “joyUS justUS" by CONTRA-TIEMPO.
The summer season at Jacob's Pillow will include a performance of “joyUS justUS" by CONTRA-TIEMPO.Steve Wylie

Following last summer’s first-ever season cancellation and the November fire that destroyed the Doris Duke Theatre, Jacob’s Pillow is rebounding this summer with an impressive schedule of live performances at outdoor sites throughout its Becket campus, all following strict COVID protocols. Announced Tuesday, the June 30-Aug. 29 season will also offer unprecedented online access to most festival programming, including a free virtual gala June 12.

The 2021 Festival is the first with an expanded curatorial team. Associate curators Melanie George and Ali Rosa-Salas have joined executive and artistic director Pamela Tatge to identify new creative voices and broaden artistic perspectives. “As an institution, we are thinking about how systemic racism impacts the dance field, and we are looking to support artists of all kinds to tell their own stories,” Tatge said. “Festival 2021 will center the work of BIPOC artists and provide platforms for their stories to be told and archived.”


The season is also notable in taking advantage of the beauty and history of the Festival’s 220-acre campus, with a wide variety of site-specific works. “That’s the way we’re using our space and inviting artists to be in dialogue with it,” Tatge said. “We’ve never done anything of this scale before.” 

Highlights include local indigenous dancers in an event called Eastern Woodland Dances and the world premiere of “Swallow the Moon,” by Igbo-Nigerian American choreographer Okwui Okpokwasili and Peter Born.

Tatge said the Pillow is also committed to showcasing artists at the forefront of innovation and experimental performance technology, such as Brian Brooks. In addition to performances by Brian Brooks/Moving Company this summer, the choreographer’s site-specific “Viewpoint” will offer a real-time immersive Augmented Reality performance that can be experienced on the Pillow grounds or at home. Other site-specific events include Emily Johnson/Catalyst and re-imagined works from jumatatu m. poe’s the “Let ‘im Move You” series.


Performances will be staged throughout the Jacob's Pillow campus and adhere to COVID protocols.
Performances will be staged throughout the Jacob's Pillow campus and adhere to COVID protocols.Christopher Duggan

The Pillow’s outdoor amphitheater, the Henry J. Leir Stage, will be the scene for live performances representing a wide range of dance styles. Dorrance Dance kicks off the season with the world premiere of a full-ensemble work by Nicholas Van Young featuring new original music by company musicians. Additionally, the company’s daytime ‘tap takeovers” will rove throughout the campus. Other highlights include Archie Burnett’s collaborative chronicle of the New York underground dance scene, “Life Encounters,” CONTRA-TIEMPO’s celebratory evening-length “joyUS justUS,” and the “extreme action” of STREB, performing at the Pillow for the first time in two decades. Artists from Boston Ballet, Houston Ballet, and Pacific Northwest Ballet will join together for an exclusive finale, “Ballet Coast to Coast.”

Due to travel strictures, the only international live show will be by Montréal based circus companies Cirque Barcode and Acting for Climate Montréal. Three other events will be featured in Pillow-exclusive online streams: the US premiere of Crystal Pite’s “Body and Soul,” choreographed for and performed by Paris Opera Ballet; a new performance film of Odissi dance by Nrityagram Dance Ensemble offering a rare look inside the company’s village; and a virtual reality presentation by zoe | juniper.

Festival 2021 also includes PillowTalks, workshops and classes, performances by The School at Jacob’s Pillow Performance Ensemble, and Pillow Pop-Ups around Berkshire County. Blake’s Barn, which houses exhibits and Pillow archives, will be open Tuesdays through Sundays via free, advanced ticketing.

For Tatge, the summer can’t come soon enough. “The prospect of seeing people on our campus again, witnessing artists on that spectacular stage with the backdrop of the Berkshire hills — there is nothing more exciting for me to look forward to right now,” she said. “We know that people need to come out of their isolation, to be together and witness the capacity of the human spirit in the way that only dance can help you witness.”


For a full schedule of events, go to www.JacobsPillow.org

Karen Campbell can be reached at karencampbell4@rcn.com.