The Virtual Pillow

“The rabbit-hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down a very deep well.”—Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

That’s how I felt when I began using the Internet.

But I’m no longer so Victorian. Tunneling takes me to places I never intended to go. It’s the new normal. Yet the Internet is a virtual rabbit hole. How to find small Wonderlands, and not just quagmires of unembellished junk, is the real question.

Recently, I made my way up the ladder-like road that leads to the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Becket, MA. Besides my work as a festival summer scholar (who gives pre-performance talks and such), I learned about how America’s oldest continuously running dance festival is trying to shape their presence on the net.

In 2008 the Pillow’s effort went into higher gear when the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation gave the festival more than $1M. Unlike most grants, this one doesn’t overly define how their money should be spent. But General Manager Connie Chin says that some of the money is earmarked toward a project called the Virtual Pillow.

So, I checked in with Virtual Pillow Project Manager Lisa Niedermeyer about how the festival, which boasts three stages, is connecting with the broadband world beyond their rural doorstop. “If the Pillow is going to grow, how are we going to do it?” questioned Niedermeyer, a former Pillow performer. “The answer is to do it online. The Virtual Pillow is the fourth stage.”

The goal, however, is not to stream an entire live festival performance. Nor will The Pillow attempt to create an online simulacrum of being at their hallowed grounds where Ted Shawn’s Men Dancers performed during the Depression for local ladies over tea and cakes.

The idea of how to grow is much more inimitable, much more Lewis Carroll.

It begins with PillowTalks, which are curated by Director of Preservation Norton Owen and made accessible on via a media partnership. These talks feature choreographers, visual artists, and writers whose work connects directly or tangentially to performances at The Pillow. So far there are only eight edited PillowTalk videos. All are under ten minutes. My favorite film features choreographer Barak Marshall describing the experience of dancing for an anti-Israeli crowd:

Barak Marshall: Dance Bridging Cultures

Clearly The Pillow isn’t spending their money fast or creating flash mobs scenarios. They are testing the waters and trying to find out what a surfing public, that isn’t dance mad, is interested in learning about their field.

When I first heard about the Virtual Pillow, it sounded overly grand and potentially unwieldy. But it is not. It’s a carefully curated project in its nascent stage. Like Alice, who goes down the rabbit hole to find out why a white rabbit is speaking English and is holding a timepiece, I want to follow this new project. Its deliberate coyness intrigues me. I don’t think it will become a morass of material, clogging up my broadband.

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