The Berkshires, MA— Jacob’s Pillow

Ted Shawn and Men Dancers in the early 1930's

Ted Shawn and Men Dancers in the early 1930’s

Modern dance pioneer Ted Shawn bought the Jacob’s Pillow farm in Becket, MA. in 1931. Shawn had long harbored a dream of legitimizing dance in America as an honorable career for men, and in 1933, he recruited eight men for a new dance company. In July 1933, Ted Shawn and His Men Dancers started offering “Tea Lecture Demonstrations” in their barn studio (now known as the Bakalar Studio) to promote their work— Ted would lecture about dance and choreography while the men performed. This established roots for what was to evolve into Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival.

Ted Shawn on the Pillow Rock ca. 1947 (photo: Eric Sanford from the Pillow's archives)

Ted Shawn on the Pillow Rock ca. 1947
(photo: Eric Sanford from the Pillow’s archives)

“The Pillow” is a 220-acre National Historic Landmark, a recipient of the prestigious National Medal of Arts, and home to America’s longest-running international dance festival. Thousands of people from across the U.S. and around the world come to experience the Festival with more than 50 dance companies and 200 free performances, talks, and events; explore the Pillow’s rare and extensive dance archives. The School at Jacob’s Pillow is one of the most prestigious professional dance training centers in the US. I’ve been to The Pillow several times and a new addition was the fine dining experience at Haven at the Pillow.

Inside/Out performance space at Jacob's Pillow

Inside/Out performance space at Jacob’s Pillow

We had an excellent meal then walked the grounds checking out the rock/ pillow that gave this wonderful place its name, the gallery, the store, the outdoor performance space: Inside/Out, the dance studios, and the 2 theaters. We came across several summer interns (from across the US and Europe) and many of them are dancers, others in public relations and learning about dance history, performances, events, and management. “It’s just like summer camp” several of the interns recounted.

Che Malambo curtain call at the Ted Shawn Theatre at Jacob's Pillow, Becket, MA

Che Malambo curtain call at the Ted Shawn Theatre at Jacob’s Pillow, Becket, MA

We saw a performance in the Ted Shawn Theatre of the all-male Argentinean dance company Che Malambo. I am excited just thinking about this stirring, exciting, breathtaking ,percussive dance and music spectacle that we saw. I can’t describe it so following is a video from Brian Kaempen and text from their website at

Malambo, a dynamic blend of precision footwork, rhythmic stomping, drumming and song, is at the heart of the gaucho (South American cowboy) tradition and led by founder and choreographer Gilles Brinas.   Malambo began in the 17th century as competitive duels that tested skills of agility, strength and dexterity among the gaucho. It soon evolved to include its hallmark, zapeteo, the fast-paced footwork inspired by the rhythm of galloping horses. In addition to Zapateo, Malambo features the drumming of traditional Argentine bombos and whirling boleadoras, a throwing weapon made up of intertwined cords and weighted with stones.”

One other thing, in exploring The Pillow’s website I took a look at their archives, where visitors can view the print collection of over 2500 books and periodicals, watch the award-winning Pillow documentary Never Stand Still, have immediate access to over 6000 performance and other Pillow related video documentation. Full versions of nearly every performance from the past 35 years are available for viewing, along with talks, rehearsals, classes, interviews, and films dating from the earliest days of the Pillow.


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