My colleague Hadley Davis made some great points about the challenges of both creating and sustaining public awareness and appreciation for dance history and criticism in her blog post, “Difficulties for Dance Librarianship.” Dance itself is a transient, ephemeral art, so how does one go about studying dance? How does one talk about dance, or even understand dance?
At Jacob’s Pillow, in addition to the fabulous dance performances put on during the festival, each week there are many historical and educational programs on the schedule that are free and open to the public. I have been so impressed by the quality of all the programs that I’ve attended — and I also believe that collectively they have been hugely beneficial in my dance history education — that I feel it’s important to share a few samples of these programs here, and remark how the scholarly efforts at Jacob’s Pillow add some intellectual spice to the experience of coming out to enjoy dance, making dance more easily accessible for everyone.
First there are the Pre-Show Talks, which are given for each performance in the Ted Shawn Theatre and the Doris Duke Theatre. In these talks, one of the Scholars prepares a 10-15 minute “appetizer” for patrons that covers some of the background of the company that the patrons are about to see. The scholars also dissect each of the pieces listed in the program for that evening, and give some ideas about what to look for during the performance. These Pre-Show Talks are a great way to set the stage for the audience so they will be able to maximize their experience of the dancers on stage.
Then once a week directly after the show, there are Post-Show talks, which take place in the Ted Shawn Theatre or the Doris Duke Theatre. These talks are a chance for the audience to hear one of the Scholars interview the company Director, or other members of the company they’ve just seen perform, to learn more about their inspirations and the ideas behind the performance. After this the audience can then ask additional questions and participate in the dialogue. Here’s the video clip of the Post Show Talk that took place between Brian Brooks, founder of the Brian Brooks Moving Company, and Scholar in Residence Maura Keefe.
Building on these short talks, twice a week there are hour long discussions called “Pillow Talks,” where a dance topic is examined and unpacked through conversation. Pillow Talks are my favorite! Here is a Pillow Talk from last summer where Judith Jamison talks to Norton Owen about her influences and life:
In addition to these talks, there are historical tours of the Jacob’s Pillow grounds and film showings that take place throughout the summer, so there really are learning opportunities available for patrons and staff at every turn.
Of course there are also many online tools and websites that allow anyone to learn about dance online from their homes. I’ve mentioned “Dance Interactive” in previous posts, which is a searchable collection of video clips from the archives, and an immensely useful resource. Additionally, the Jacob’s Pillow YouTube channel is full of snippets of talks like the ones I have posted above, but there are also many promotional videos that are developed throughout the season that spotlight a certain dancer or company with biographical information and clips of their work.
Here’s a short video featuring the outstanding Tap dancer Michelle Dorrance of Dorrance Dance, winner of 2013’s Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award:
I think these types of resources truly help solidify dance as a viable art form, and I also think they enhance both the public response to dance and the awareness of dance as a meaningful part of our culture. Kudos to Jacob’s Pillow for providing these high quality programs!