10/08/2012 09:19 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival: Then and Now

It's Jacob's Pillow's 80th anniversary, and if you've had the chance to visit the Pillow, you'll know that every year Norton Owen creates a beautiful exhibit in Blake's Barn. This summer's exhibit is the Decades of Dance and features photographs spanning the festival's 80 years. I've always been inspired by these historic photographs on the Pillow grounds, and this summer I decided to create a personal project surrounding some of my favorite iconic images.

When the From the Horse's Mouth program was presented this summer, taking advantage of the connection to Ted Shawn's Men Dancers was a no-brainer. We were trying to do something interesting with the group to showcase that Ted Shawn was a pioneer for male performers. We recreated the famous photo of the Men Dancers in their bathrobes.

I wanted to recreate in the spirit of the original image and then we made another photo, because I wanted to give it my own spin with the creativity of the dancers.


Top Left: Ted Shawn's Men Dancers (credit unknown); Top Right & Bottom: performers of From the Horse's Mouth by Christopher Duggan

That photo shoot got my juices going. I had always loved an iconic image of Ruth St. Denis from 1950 in this beautiful dress. When I saw Jessica Lang's dance with the white dress by Elena Comendador, I thought "Oh my God, I wonder if she'll be willing... "


Top Left: Ruth St. Denis by John Lindquist (© Harvard Theatre Collection); Top Right & Bottom: Jessica Lang dancer Kana Kimura in dress by Elena Comendador by Christopher Duggan

The third and final "Then and Now" from this summer is tribute to a gorgeous picture by John Lindquist of a dancer on the Ted Shawn Theater with the doors open (a lot of people think it was taken on Inside/Out, but this was before the outdoor stage existed).

When I found out that The Joffrey Ballet was going to be in the Ted Shawn Theater and the company planned to open the back barn doors for one of their dances, I was overjoyed. I've been waiting for six weeks to make that picture. I was just getting in my mind how I'd execute the photo and things started to unravel. The Joffrey didn't open the doors because it was too cold, and there were several floor lights on the edge of the stage that would alter the shot. There were so many factors that would make it difficult to recreate the photo that I gave up on the idea. But while the dance photography workshop was going on, I was walking by the theater, and they had just finished company class. I went on stage and showed the photo to one of the dancers on my iPhone, and we went for it.


Top Left: Alicia Alonso John Lindquist (© Harvard Theatre Collection); Top Right & Bottom: Dara Holmes of The Joffrey Ballet by Christopher Duggan

If you visit Jacob's Pillow, you'll notice that every room in every building on campus has photographs on the wall. It's so obvious that photographs are our window into the past, the living legacy of the festival. I honor that, I'm intimidated by that, and I'm proud of that. This was a way to connect to the past and to leave my own mark.

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