Throughout the summer, everyone pitched in, from the dancers and company management to students and their mothers. It was like a 1940s Andy Hardy movie starring Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland where someone suddenly shouts, “Hey, kids, let’s put on a show!”
In archival photos of the farm, Markova and Dolin can be seen rehearsing on backyard rocks and ledges, as well as dusting and sweeping out the huge barn. While pushing a large broom, Markova is dressed in a rather fetching pantsuit with fitted jacket and wide-leg trousers. The outfit would be the envy of any fashionable woman of today.
Dolin may have chided Markova for dressing too casually, but she was actually a front-runner in establishing a modern, comfortable chic that was widely copied. Three years before Lauren Bacall taught Humphrey Bogart to whistle in 1944’s To Have and Have Not, Markova was photographed at a restaurant wearing an almost identical wide-shouldered herringbone fitted suit and jaunty beret. (Bacall was another nice Jewish girl who made good.) Markova was also one of the first female celebrities to wear pants in public.
The fashion magazines loved her, and that got Jacob’s Pillow some much needed attention and publicity. Markova’s presence drew the most famous photographers from Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, who despite strict gas rationing made the trip to the Berkshires from New York to take photos of the willowy ballerina in the great outdoors. Of course they stayed to watch her dance.
As a reporter from The Berkshire Eagle later rhapsodized about Markova: “Her artistry was akin in spirit to that of a violinist or pianist playing gentle and lyrical passages to chamber music. . . . Diminutive and delicate, her paleness enhanced by jet-black hair, her features suggesting Anna Pavlova, Markova smiled subtly her Mona Lisa smile and virtually floated across the open dancing space.”
Though the cost of performances at Jacob’s Pillow was eminently affordable — the top price was $1.50, and that included afternoon tea — the publicity surrounding Markova’s summer performances in the rural town (not to mention the official premiere of her re-partnering with Dolin) was invaluable. There was also the added cachet of prominent guest lecturers, including dance critics John Martin from The New York Times and Walter Terry of the New York Herald Tribune.
With all the talented Russian and European company dancers, the festival was considered an international event, helping to raise $50,000 in donations. Leading the formation of that funding committee, and acting as its first president, was Markova’s benefactor Reginald Wright.
Shawn explained: Their “plan was that a new, non-profit-making, artistic and educational corporation be formed by them which would buy the property from me, and build a proper dance festival theatre so that dance artists could have ideal conditions in which to show their work, and audiences have ideal conditions in which to see it. They asked me whether, if this was done, and the corporation engaged me as managing director, would I consent to stay on and conduct school and festivals at Jacob’s Pillow. . . . I consented.”
Ted Shawn would forever be grateful to Markova, whom he called “Adored Alicia” in his frequent letters over the years. They always remained great friends, and Markova returned to dance at Jacob’s Pillow in the 1950s at the pinnacle of her career.
Markova and Dolin had indeed “put on a show!” and Jacob’s Pillow flourished ever after.
SEE FOR YOURSELF
The Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Becket runs until August 25 and offers both free and ticketed performances. 413-243-0745; jacobspillow.org
To coincide with the publication of The Making of Markova, the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University is exhibiting highlights from the Alicia Markova Collection until November in the Mugar Memorial Library. Author Tina Sutton will speak about Markova’s archives on September 19 in Boston University’s Metcalf Ballroom. 617-353-3696; bu.edu/archives; themakingofmarkova.com
Sutton will also discuss Markova on August 15 at the Brookline Booksmith. 617-566-6660; brooklinebooksmith.com
Tina Sutton is a Brookline-based freelancer who regularly writes for the magazine’s Style Watch column. Send comments to email@example.com.