During the summer of 1933, when Ted Shawn was rehearsing his company of Men Dancers at Jacob's Pillow, his farm in Becket, Mass., he invited the neighbors to watch. They paid 75 cents apiece to sit in the barn-turned studio, listen to Mr. Shawn talk about his profession, and view the works-in-progress.
The spirit of welcoming visitors in to see dance presentations has not changed. Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival opens its 65th season on the grounds of Shawn's property this week for nine weeks of performances, lectures, exhibitions, and a school program that makes room for every style of dance.
Sali Ann Kriegsman, executive director of the Pillow, as it is fondly called, is mindful of the legacy she has inherited. "I have a tremendous respect for what I consider to be Ted Shawn's forward-looking notion of dance as much larger than any one school, one thought, one approach," she says.
Now in her third year as director, Ms. Kriegsman presides over the 150 acres that includes the rough-hewn Ted Shawn Theater, which is the primary performing space; a soaring studio theater in the woods; an outdoor stage for free performances; and Blake's Barn, which houses the Jacob's Pillow archives, a video viewing room, and exhibition gallery.
The fiscal crisis that threatened the festival's existence 18 months ago has been resolved, allowing the organization to begin the season debt-free. The festival has even raised $7 million of the $10 million needed for operating expenses through 2000.
Kriegsman has put together a season of dance that encompasses 18 companies in 92 performances, plus two free lecture series and an exhibit of historic photographs by John Lindquist, official photographer at Jacob's Pillow from 1938 to 1979.
Among the troupes to perform are those of Mark Morris, Bill T. Jones, Merce Cunningham, and the Limn Dance Company. The Dance Theatre of Harlem will make its first appearance at the Pillow in 24 years.
Elizabeth Streb/Ringside, David Dorfman Dance, Donald Byrd/The Group, and Meredith Monk, who was a student at the Pillow when she was 16, will make their Pillow debuts. Lakshmi will appear at the festival for the first time, following her mother, the Bharata Natyam dancer Balasaraswati, who made her Pillow debut in the 1960s.
"This season is part of a series I call 'Dancing Towards the Millennium.' I had this mythical dancegoer in mind, a person who comes to the first performance and sees everything at Jacob's Pillow through the next five years to get their dance education through live performances," Kriegsman says.
Like Shawn, Kriegsman is open to work of all kinds from every part of the globe and is intent on fostering new works by young choreographers.
When Shawn began his dance career in 1914 with his wife, Ruth St. Denis, dance in America was in its infancy. Ms. St. Denis and the expatriate Isadora Duncan were the founding mothers of modern dance; Shawn became its father. Other than hoofers on the Broadway stage and the growing onslaught of ballet dancers from Russia, dance as a serious art form was largely unknown. The extensive cross-country tours of Denishawn, the company created by Shawn and St. Denis, put dance on the map during the 1920s.
After World War II, Shawn returned to Becket to foster the summer school and performance festival until his passing in 1972.
Over the decades, Jacob's Pillow, the oldest continuously operating dance festival in the United States, has grown into one of the most important attractions among the summer cultural events that stud the Berkshire towns.
* The season for Jacob's Pillow runs from June 24 to Aug. 24. For information, call (413) 243-0745.