Decidedly Jazz Danceworks Will Perform at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival

By Jenna Shummoogum - The Dance Current
3 min read | July 30, 2023
Artistic Director Kimberley Cooper Discusses This Monumental Opportunity

Calgary’s own Decidedly Jazz Danceworks (DJD) has been invited to perform at the prestigious, world-renowned Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival this summer. DJD will be joining an array of U.S. and international dance companies for the festival’s 91st season.

Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival or “The Pillow,” as it’s fondly referred to, is a 220-acre National Historic Landmark located in the Berkshire Hills of Western Massachusetts close to the town of Becket. The land the festival occupies was bought by dance pioneer Ted Shaw.

“It’s kind of in the middle of nowhere in the forest. It’s like the Banff Centre, but with a dance focus,” said Kimberley Cooper, artistic director of DJD.

The Pillow hosts a nine-week festival in the summer and over those nine weeks, they have programming across two stages. Prior to 2020, the campus had three theatres, but unfortunately, one of the theatres was lost to a fire and is undergoing a rebuilding process.

“It’s a very robust and very full slate of programming,” said Melanie George, associate curator and director of artistic initiatives at Jacob’s Pillow.

DJD will perform an excerpt of Family of Jazz, which premiered in Calgary in April 2022. In its original form, Cooper invited three guest choreographers to create work for the first act and she crafted choreography for the second act. “The Pillow” will present the second act on the Henry J. Leir stage, their outdoor theatre space.

George feels it’s important to broaden the lens of how we think about contemporary dance in 2023: “Jazz is America’s postcolonial Indigenous art form; the fact that it’s so absent from a lot of our stages is really quite curious to me and problematic,” she says.

As a jazz dancer, Cooper says, “I feel like I constantly live in the moment. So I don’t know if I’m going to know what that moment means until we’re there.” feels as though she is always living in the moment. Being invited to perform at Jacob’s Pillow feels like being invited to a bigger conversation. DJD is the only Canadian company and the only jazz company to be invited to perform at the festival this year. “It marks a moment in a company’s career…it’s a monumental invitation,” Cooper states.

DJD has created a legacy in Calgary, with its space, its performance company, and its school. Being invited to perform in one of the U.S.’ biggest dance festivals is significant because it is also an invitation to contribute to the conversation around jazz as an art form and its credibility.

“The Pillow” was drawn to DJD as their values align; DJD’s style is based in rooted perspective; — it acknowledges that jazz is a Black art form —  and “The Pillow” prioritizes showcasing dance that is historically informed.

George became familiar with DJD a few years ago when she had the opportunity to work with them and see them perform in Calgary back in 2019. She was moved by the production she saw called Better Get Hit in Your Soul and wanted to present DJD’s work on a bigger stage. She also notes their situation is unique: “A lot of dance from Calgary doesn’t come to the States very often,” she says. Because of this, George believes there will be intrigue and interest in what is being created not just in Canada, but Calgary as well.

“A lot of people don’t know who this company is and they’ve been around for decades,” says George.

“The Pillow” as an organization is very interested in having international representation on their stages and they hold relationships with numerous arts organizations across Canada. As we move further and further away from the initial COVID lockdowns, George is hoping to open up their stages to more companies around the world.

“We’re excited to go back to our international representation of dance artists on our stages, and DJD is one of those companies,” she says.

Cooper hopes this opportunity exposes DJD to new audiences and collaborators, and opens the door to touring in the future.