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Jacob's Pillow just put 70-plus years of modern dance videos online

Hey check this out: it's TED SHAWN, the creator of the JACOB'S PILLOW DANCE FESTIVAL, performing "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen," from his Four Dances Based on American Folk Music, in 1931. On Vimeo!

It appears that Jacob's Pillow has just uploaded a shit-ton of its performance archives onto a new portal, JACOB'S PILLOW DANCE INTERACTIVE, that traces the history of the Festival (and thus the history of 20th century dance) through video clips and quick annotation. The clips are short -- because the rights issues around dance performances are at least as tricky, and often trickier, than those around music and film. But this is pure win, and a pretty sweet addition to the Pillow's recently burgeoning web-video archives of talks on and workshops on YouTube.

Alas, none of the new stuff is embeddable -- so you'll have to go over there to check out all the clips -- but here's a quick site tour they posted on YouTube, followed by the full press release:


March 28, 2011 – (Becket, Mass) Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, National Historic Landmark and recent recipient of a 2010 National Medal of Arts, today launches Jacob’s Pillow Dance Interactive, an online video collection of dance highlights from 1937 through 2010. Aimed at expanding global audiences for dance, this new resource offers a curated selection of videos by artists who have performed at Jacob’s Pillow over the past seven decades. Dance Interactive features brief video clips ranging from 1930s footage of Ted Shawn and His Men Dancers to HD videos of 2010 performances by Australian contemporary company Lucy Guerin Inc, dancer/choreographer Kyle Abraham, and Kuchipudi master Shantala Shivalingappa. The resource merges educational and entertaining features, including corresponding facts about the artists and a guessing game that allows users to test their dance knowledge. To experience Jacob’s Pillow Dance Interactive, visit //

“Jacob’s Pillow Dance Interactive is about expanding audiences for dance. People often assume there is a ‘secret code’ to understanding dance performances; with this new resource anyone can dive in and interact with the content.  The performance clips are amazing, and you can explore freely on your own, have fun, and learn at the same time.  It’s an engaging and satisfying experience for anyone who is brand new to dance as well as veteran dance-goers,” comments Ella Baff, Jacob’s Pillow Executive and Artistic Director.

Norton Owen, Jacob’s Pillow Director of Preservation, comments “We have been documenting virtually every performance at Jacob's Pillow for nearly thirty years, and we also have historic films that date to our very beginnings. All of these films and videos are available for viewing in their entirety in the Jacob's Pillow Archives, and we hope this new online resource will increase interest in exploring the riches of our entire collection. Now anyone with an internet connection can sample highlights that have been carefully chosen to celebrate some of the world's most extraordinary artists."

“Through a thoughtful development process, the team designed the site to be an easy to use, clean interface for people of all ages and interest levels in dance,” states Connie Chin, Jacob’s Pillow General Manager and Virtual Pillow Director. “We’ve already discovered through user testing that people find the site extremely appealing and even addictive, especially the guessing game, through which they are learning about dance as they play.”

Jacob’s Pillow Dance Interactive was inspired by and based on an interactive touch-screen kiosk that was created by the Pillow to celebrate its 75th Anniversary Year in 2007. With a desire to bring this interactive resource online, Jacob’s Pillow contracted digital agency ClearMetrics to create an online interface that is also tablet/mobile friendly. Dance Interactive, created with the open source software Drupal, employs a sophisticated tagging and filtering system which allows users to access videos through multiple entry points and paths of discovery including genre, era, and artist name. A gaming element offering random answer sets from the collection of archival content was introduced to help make the interface fun and engaging. 

Accessibility to audiences all over the world was an important consideration in the creation of Dance Interactive, building on the global audience that Jacob’s Pillow already attracts. The navigation was designed to be primarily visual, with content text that can be easily translated into foreign languages with resources such as Google Translate. 

The content of the site is drawn entirely from films and videos recorded in performance at the Pillow. As such, they have never before been available outside the Pillow Archives and a related collection at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. Many of the films from the Pillow's first three decades are silent, and soundtracks have been added in order to enhance the viewing experience. Among the films that have benefitted from this technique is a brief sequence featuring Anna Duncan, one of the adopted daughters of Isadora Duncan and a member of the group known as the "Isadorables." Because there is no authenticated footage of Isadora herself, this little-known 1942 film fragment is of enormous importance to the dance field.

Jacob’s Pillow Dance Interactive also includes:

  • Jacob’s Pillow founder Ted Shawn and His Men Dancers performing the iconic works Kinetic Molpai (1937) and Four Dances Based on American Folk Music (1938)
  • The only known moving images of Asadata Dafora (1942), regarded as the first artist to present authentic African dance and music on the American stage
  • Members of the Royal Danish Ballet in their U.S. debut, performing August Bournonville’s Konservatoriet (1955)
  • Pearl Primus in Spirituals (1950), one of the few moving images available of this groundbreaking artist
  • Merce Cunningham in Banjo (1955), documenting Cunningham's Pillow debut just two years after establishing his company
  • The first restaging of The Peony Pavilion in 300 years (1999), seen during a top-secret rehearsal period prior to its U.S. premiere at the Lincoln Center Festival
  • Desmond Richardson and Karine Plantadit  in Ulysses Dove’s Episodes (2000)
  • William Forsythe’s Herman Schmerman (2004) with Wendy Whelan and Peter Boal, recorded in his final year of performing
  • HD footage of recent performances by Dance Theatre of Harlem Ensemble, Shantala Shivalingappa, Barak Marshall’s MONGER,  Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, and others (2010)
  • And many more artists and dance companies from around the world


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