Jacob's Pillow Seeking Samba Dancers

by karen Krolak

Moving Monkeyhouse into Springstep switched up the rhythms of my administrative duties tremendously. Board meetings, for example, are often accompanied by the buoyant energy of Bollywood classes. My typing provides a nice counterpoint to flamenco rehearsals some days. Just hanging around the halls as students gather for Tango, Tap, and Salsa has whet my appetite for a wider range of dance styles. 

When I heard that Jacob's Pillow was planning a Samba program this summer, I was eager to discover how they developed their Cultural Traditions offerings. I contacted one of my favorite people at the Pillow, J.R. Glover, Director of Education, to pick her brain about the Samba session.

karen Krolak: Can you tell me a little bit about the philosophy of the Cultural Traditions program? How does it relate to the mission of Jacob’s Pillow?
J.R.Glover: The School at Jacob’s Pillow annually offers programs in Ballet, Contemporary, Jazz/Musical Theatre Dance and Cultural Traditions, which features a different cultural dance form each year. The Cultural Traditions Program is very much in keeping with the history and philosophy of Jacob’s Pillow. Our founder, Ted  Shawn, researched and was influenced by cultural dance forms from all over the world, and from the very beginning, he presented a wide variety of dance forms in performance, just as we continue to do on stage today.

The mission of the Pillow is, “To support dance creation, presentation, education, and preservation; and to engage and deepen public appreciation and support for dance.” It’s notable that the mission doesn’t focus on a specific genre of dance, but on dance as a whole. It’s important that this inclusive definition of dance be reflected in all aspects of Jacob’s Pillow, including The School. Everyone benefits from the cross-pollination that occurs when dancers and dance supporters from different backgrounds meet and learn about one another’s art form.

kK: So, is this the first time that you have organized a Samba program at Jacob's Pillow?
J.R.: Yes!  We are so excited to have these dancers arrive and share the folk and social styles of this high-energy art form with our audiences and visitors. 

kK: Can you give me some examples of other dance styles that have been included in the Cultural Traditions workshops?
JR: Other dance forms that have been highlighted in our Cultural Traditions Programs in years past include last year’s Tap Program, and prior to that, Hip-Hop, Pacific Islands Dances, Flamenco, and more. This summer it’s Samba’s turn to shine!  Dancers and dance supporters should check our website in December to see which form will be featured in 2012. 

kK: Did something in particular attract Jacob's Pillow to this style now?
J.R.: Artistic and Executive Director, Ella Baff, and I made the decision to feature Samba this summer because of the Pillow’s association with Mimulus Dance Company from Belo Horizonte, Brazil and their amazingly talented Artistic Director Jomar Mesquita, who is also the Program Director for the Samba Program. Mimulus has completed two well-received engagements at Jacob’s Pillow in the past few years, and we feel very fortunate that Jomar is able to be here this summer to share his vast knowledge of dance and his innovative choreographic approaches.

kK: Do other summer dance festivals offer Samba classes?
J.R.: As far as other programs go, there are certainly entire festivals dedicated to Brazilian art forms that take place all over the world; yet the Pillow is unique in that we are offering this intensive in Brazilian Samba in such an eclectic environment. For example, during the Samba Program, two of the companies performing at the Pillow are Norway’s national contemporary dance company, Carte Blanche and Crystal Pite’s Frankfurt and Vancouver company, Kidd Pivot Frankfurt RM.  Also performing in the theatres will be Tangueros del Sur, which includes some of Argentina’s leading Tango musicians and dancers under the artistic direction of Natalia Hills. Just imagine the vibes on campus the week we have the tangueros and sambistas! The exchanges that will be possible between these South American dancers, as well as dancers from all over the world, is one of the things that makes the Pillow so special, and why studying here tends to be a career-enhancing and life-changing experience.

kK: Having studied at the Pillow before, I agree that the atmosphere created by the other artists on campus infuses everything. However, I feel that what makes your workshops so exceptional is your teachers and their passion for nurturing younger artists. How do you select your faculty members?
 J.R.: I always select faculty in consultation with the program directors. For the Samba Program, I relied heavily on Jomar’s expertise. Juliana Macedo is Jomar’s dance partner and has been affiliated with Mimulus for over twenty years, including serving as a principal dancer. Since our program will have a strong focus on Samba’s partnering styles, having the two of them on faculty will be especially helpful for the participants.  Our Samba Scholar, Gustavo Côrtes, directs the Brazilian folk dance group Sarandeiros and is an expert on Brazilian folklore and traditional arts. He has priceless knowledge and video footage to share with our participants. Finally, all Samba classes are going to be accompanied by a trio of accomplished musicians who are traveling to the Pillow from Brazil specifically to play for the Samba Program: Music Director Rodrigo Torino on guitar, Leonardo Brasilino on bass trombone, and Gustavo Grieco on percussion. The studio is going to be full of rhythm!

kK: Sounds wonderful. As you and Jomar crafted the Samba program, were you hoping for dancers who are already proficient at Samba or people who want to add it to their current training?
 J.R.: Well, all of our programs are limited to 24 participants: 12 men and 12 women.  We are always looking for a combination of advanced pre-professionals who are on the verge of beginning their careers and working artists who are interested in professional development. That said, the dancer’s specific background is less important than his or her talent and passion. We are recruiting from both the Samba no Pé and Latin Ballroom fields. Participants must have strong performance skills since they perform for the public each week as part of our free outdoor series, Inside/Out. We have been recruiting as many established dance partners as possible for the program. Yet, we are also eager to help individual dancers attend and working to make it possible for new partnerships to form while at the Pillow. Most importantly, dancers should be open to learning new styles, delving into Samba’s history and evolution, and expanding their technical, artistic, and performance skills.

kK: I have been sharing many of the videos on Dance Interactive with Monkeyhouse's supporters and with my students and they love the site. Do you know if there are any Samba performances on the Dance Interactive for people who are curious to learn more about the art of Samba?
J.R.: We don’t currently have clips of Samba artists on Dance Interactive. However, since new content is continuously added to the site, check back frequently!  Footage of Jomar’s company Mimulus performing at the Pillow can be viewed in the Archives here on campus, and samples of their work can also be found online. Here’s a great YouTube clip that features highlights from the company’s most recent show Por Um Fio.

To find out more about the Samba program, contact J.R. Glover at  413.243.9919 x160

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