The summer calendar has been marked for dancing since 1933 when American dance pioneer Ted Shawn and his company of Men Dancers gave their first performances at Jacob's Pillow, his 163-acre farm in Becket, Mass. A year later, in 1934, Martha Graham and Doris Humphrey brought their companies to Bennington College in Vermont for rural retreats. These summer residencies gave the choreographers a respite from the baking caverns of New York with spaces for rehearsals and classes.
As the world changed and new faces appeared, more festivals were started or expanded to include other art forms. This summer's travelers have multiple choices to see companies at work, while dance students can find many centers offering intensive courses. The American Dance Festival, now located at Duke University in Durham, N.C. (through July 25) is the largest in terms of student numbers, with an extensive performance schedule, while Jacob's Pillow, which runs through Aug. 29, presents an eclectic mix of forms, from ballet to ballroom, contemporary to the old-time styles of tap.
One of the most heralded events of the summer will be the revival of postmodern choreographer Lucinda Childs's 1979 work, "Dance," at Bard SummerScape, July 9-12, in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y. Childs conceived the piece in collaboration with composer Philip Glass and minimalist artist Sol LeWitt, who designed a stage set with white vertical and horizontal lines, backed by a huge screen to project a film of the dancers on stage moving through the space. "Dance" became the emblem for a generation of choreographers flying the banner of dance for its own sake, without need of décor or story line, instigated by Merce Cunningham from his earliest inventions.
Merce, as he is universally called, remains ever the iconoclast. Among the celebrations of his 90th birthday this year will be a retrospective of his works at Jacob's Pillow, July 22-26, from "Sounddance" (1975) to "CRWDSPCR" (1993) to "eyespace" (2006), which provides iPod Shuffles for each viewer to listen to individualized scores. His company also appears at the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., July 14, and the Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller Park in New York City, Aug. 1-2 (free admission). His work "Nearly Ninety" will be performed at the Krannert Center for Performing Arts in Urbana, Ill., Sept. 25-26.
Another contemporary choreographer who might be considered a one-man festival is Mark Morris, whose company will be appearing throughout the summer at various venues, including music festivals, in keeping with his determination to link dance with live music. This summer he offers two world premières at Tanglewood Music Festival in Lenox, Mass.: "Empire Garden," set to Ives Trio for Violin, Violoncello, and Piano, and "Visitation," set to Beethoven's Cello Sonata in C major. Yo-Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax, and Colin Jacobsen will perform the works with The Mark Morris Dance Group. Their New York premières will be presented at Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart Festival, Aug. 19-22. In addition, the Mark Morris Dance Group performs other works from his vast repertory at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in New York, July 20-21, and at the American Dance Festival, July 23-25.
Meanwhile, for those vacationing out West, there is dance aplenty in the mountains of Colorado. Damian Wotzel, a former New York City Ballet principal dancer, has taken command of the Vail International Dance Festival, July 27-Aug. 11. Tap-dancer extraordinaire Savion Glover leads a lineup that includes the Vail debut of Miami City Ballet, directed by another NYCB alum, Edward Villella, and choreographer-of-the-moment Christopher Wheeldon's young company, Morphoses. Wheeldon, a former dancer with Britain's Royal Ballet and New York City Ballet, where he also served as resident choreographer, has struck out on his own with a company drawn from the ranks of the major ballet troupes. Each new Wheeldon work is considered the next best thing in the ballet world.
And saving one of the best for last, genuine American dance treasure Bill T. Jones has been commissioned by Ravinia Festival, outside Chicago, to create a new work for the Bicentennial celebration of Abraham Lincoln's birth. Jones, who mixes political beliefs with challenges to the audience in the form of dance combined with words and images, is creating a kaleidoscope of impressions based on his feelings about Lincoln. "Fondly Do We Hope.... Fervently Do We Pray," performed by the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, will have its world première Sept. 17 at Ravinia, along with a preview piece he made this past year, "Another Evening: Serenade/The Proposition."