The Royal Ballet Makes Its Jacob’s Pillow Debut

July 1, 2024

This summer, July 3–7, The Royal Ballet will make its debut at Jacob’s Pillow. The Pillow, located in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, hosts the longest-running international dance festival in the U.S.

For its first-ever run there, The Royal will be showcasing a number of ballets by Wayne McGregor, Christopher Wheeldon, and Pam Tanowitz; heritage pieces from Fredrick Ashton, Kenneth MacMillan, Marius Petipa, and Bronislava Nijinska; and a variety of classical and Balanchine works. The company will perform both in the indoor Ted Shawn Theatre and on the outdoor Henry J. Leir Stage, presenting a unique program for each that caters to the different spaces.

  • Giacomo Rovero hovers over Hannah Grennell in a split jump, arched over and with wide, curved arms. Hannah does a bridge on pointe, looking up at him.
  • Natalia Osipova in “The Dying Swan.” Osipova, in a white tutu, arches back with her right leg extended behind her on the floor.
  • William Bracewell and Fumi Kaneko, shown from a distance onstage, dance together with soft gold lights in the background.
  • Sarah Lamb and Ryoichi Hirano in George Balanchine's "Diamonds." Photo by Tristam Kenton, courtesy Jacob's Pillow.
  • Matthew Ball dips Mayara Magri in a pas de deux from "Carousel." She wears a light purple dress, and he black pants and a black vest, with a red scarf.

Despite this being The Royal’s debut appearance, the company has a long history with Jacob’s Pillow. The Pillow’s festival was created in the 1940s by Alicia Markova and Anton Dolin at the invitation of Ted Shawn, the founder of Jacob’s Pillow. Markova, one of the most celebrated ballerinas of the 20th century, was also the first prima ballerina of what is now The Royal Ballet.

“Jacob’s Pillow is something that I remember from when I was a kid,” says The Royal’s director, Kevin O’Hare. “It was one of the first ever, real dance festivals, and it’s a name that’s been with me since I started in the ballet world.” When the opportunity arose for The Royal to perform at Jacob’s Pillow, O’Hare knew he wanted to make it happen. “Hopefully our repertoire will be a nice snapshot of what the company’s work is, both historically and what we’re doing in the present.”

“It’s a wonderful testament to the continuity of choreography that The Royal Ballet is cultivating,” echoes principal Sarah Lamb on the significance of this debut.

At the Pillow, Lamb will be performing in several works, including a Wayne McGregor world premiere specially choreographed for the Pillow’s indoor theater. McGregor is using the large barn doors at the back of the stage, incorporating them scenically into the ballet. Lamb will also appear in Balanchine’s “Diamonds” and Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain, which will be performed outside.

Sarah Lamb and Lukas Braendsrod rehearse "After the Rain" in a darkly lit studio.
Sarah Lamb and Lukas Braendsrod rehearsing George Balanchine’s “Diamonds.” Photo by Andrej Uspenski, courtesy Royal Opera House.

After the Rain is such a beloved pas de deux,” says Lamb. “To me, being outdoors is the most appropriate place to be for this because it incorporates the natural world and the eternal.”

With the stages at Jacob’s Pillow being both indoor and outdoor, there are extra elements that the production team and the dancers need to be prepared for. The Pillow has a detailed backup plan for any bad weather that might arise. Its resident meteorologist keeps an eye on the forecast to determine the best course of action. For The Royal, if the weather were to take a turn, the shows would be moved inside because it will be the only company in residence that week. “Everyone can rest assured that they will be able to see the performance, no matter the weather,” says Lamb.

It is an undertaking to bring a group of dancers on tour to another country, especially toward the end of the season. O’Hare initially went to visit Jacob’s Pillow last August to see the space and meet with its team. By the end of the month, he knew they were going to move forward with the tour and suggested performing on both stages.

This June, as The Royal started to wrap up its final shows of Swan Lake and Ashton Celebrated, it began preparing for the Pillow. “It has been tricky finding the time to balance rehearsals with the end-of-season performances,” says O’Hare, though he believes the company is in a very good place. “I went up and watched a rehearsal for [Wheeldon’s] For Four yesterday, and they’re looking great.”

Despite the hectic scheduling, Lamb, a Boston native, is excited to be back in Massachusetts. “I have family, friends, and people who would never normally be able to make the journey over to London coming to watch me perform,” she says. “I have former teachers, former students, and old colleagues visiting. I’m so flattered that so many people from my past will be there to support me and The Royal Ballet.”

Viewers who are unable to catch The Royal live at Jacob’s Pillow can tune in to a livestream of the company’s performance on Saturday, July 6 from 8–10pm EDT. A recording of the performance will then be available on Jacob’s Pillow On Demand for 24 hours, from 12pm on Wednesday, July 10 to 12pm on Thursday, July 11.