Berkshires Scene: Wendy Whelan at Jacob’s Pillow Dance

A route with a view led the way to the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival Saturday evening.

In the woods of Becket, Massachusetts, the largest gala audience since 2007 kicked off the festival’s 81st season with cocktails in Blake’s Barn, performances in the Ted Shawn Theatre -- equipped with comfortable new seats -- and a tent-sheltered dinner prepared by Peter Platt of the Old Inn on the Green.

Highlights: shiitake mushroom and radish salad, and giant macaroons with fresh strawberries and cream.

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick attended as the gathering marked the re-awakening of culture in the Berkshire Hills for the next few months. Tanglewood opens, and Wilco curates a festival at MASS MoCA next weekend. The Clark Art Institute has a Winslow Homer exhibition, and Patricia Clarkson will play Zelda Fitzgerald at Williamstown Theatre Festival on July 1.

At Jacob’s Pillow on Saturday the biggest star on stage was New York City Ballet principal Wendy Whelan, who performed with Martha Graham Dance Company soloist Lloyd Knight in Graham’s “Moon.” This was a hint of the contemporary duets Whelan is creating for the Pillow with dancer/choreographers including Kyle Abraham and Alejandro Cerrudo, to be presented in mid-August.

“Alejandro and I will be working tomorrow, stop by,” said Whelan, capturing the informal spirit of the festival.

When Executive and Artistic Director Ella Baff announced that the students of Jacob’s Pillow had learned their dance in just four days -- starting the day they arrived -- the audience gasped.

Dance Variations

Dance Theatre of Harlem offered a “Swan Lake” pas de deux performed by Michaela DePrince and Samuel Wilson. The company is in residence at the Pillow June 19-23.

“It’s amazing to watch all the different types of dance,” said Chet Walker, the choreographer of the Tony-winning revival of “Pippin,” who directs the Jazz/Musical Theatre Dance program at Jacob’s Pillow.

Tap dancer and choreographer Michelle Dorrance, recipient of $25,000 Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award, performed for a bit with the stage dark, to emphasize her view of her art form as music. A choral group joined her as the back wall of the stage opened to a bright green forest.

“This place is dance heaven: for the dancers, for the people watching, for the students who come from all over the world to study here, and for the people who want to create dance,” said Christopher Jones, chief investment officer of the growth-and-small-cap-U.S.-equity team at J.P.Morgan Asset Management.

Jones served as a gala chairman along with Mark Leavitt, managing director and global head of technology, media and telecommunications investment banking at Piper Jaffray Cos. They helped the event raise $411,000, with 471 guests attending, including the founders of Alex Toys Inc., Nurit and Rick Amdur, who three weeks ago sold their company to Propel Equity Partners.

“Tonight is about giving back,” said Leavitt, president of the Jacob’s Pillow board.

“It’s also so much fun,” said his wife, Taryn Leavitt, a jewelry designer, before sweeping her husband onto the dance floor. At this party, everyone danced.

(Amanda Gordon is a writer and photographer for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are her own.)

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