A theater at Jacob’s Pillow, a destination for dance performance in Becket, Mass., was destroyed on Tuesday in an early morning fire.
The fire was reported around 7 a.m. at the Doris Duke Theater, according to a statement from Jacob’s Pillow. Videos from the scene showed a collapsed building engulfed in smoke, with firefighters blasting water onto heaps of charred wood. The theater was lost, the statement said, but the fire was contained to the one building at the performing arts campus.
“It looked like what a bomb must look like when it goes off,” said Pamela Tatge, the executive and artistic director of Jacob’s Pillow, who saw the damage firsthand. “It was just a pile of steel and wood. There’s amazingly one wall and one staircase that remained.”
The cause of the fire is not yet known.
“We will rebuild,” Ms. Tatge said. “The theater is an essential component of the ecology of Jacob’s Pillow.”
The performance space is one of two indoor theaters at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, an annual summer event that attracts some of the world’s leading companies. The festival was canceled this year because of the pandemic.
Tucked away along a winding wooded road in the Berkshire Hills, Jacob’s Pillow transforms into a bustling campus each summer. Home to an extensive archive and a highly regarded summer school, it’s a magnet not only for dancers and choreographers but also dance scholars, teachers and students. Its outdoor stage, with seating nestled among the trees, looks out over an idyllic view, and its indoor studios and theaters offer a sense of rugged charm.
The 230-seat Doris Duke Theater, which opened in 1990, was the newer and more intimate of the two indoor theaters, a cross between a sleek dance studio and a cavernous barn.
Ms. Tatge said that she got a call about the fire around 7:15 a.m. and drove to Becket from her home in Connecticut. When she got there, she saw plumes of smoke rising from behind the organization’s larger theater, the Ted Shawn, and then the smoldering wreckage of the Doris Duke.
Firefighters from six towns worked together to put out the six-alarm blaze; the department in Becket, a town of fewer than 2,000 people, has a small volunteer force. The fire was put out shortly before 9 a.m., the statement from Jacob’s Pillow said. There were no injuries reported.
Among the acclaimed choreographers who have presented work at the Doris Duke Theater are Kyle Abraham, Camille A. Brown and Pam Tanowitz. Before performances, audience members have often gathered on the theater’s porch for lectures, or “Pillow Talks,” about the work they are about to see, delivered by the festival’s resident scholars. The theater has also served as a space for residencies that allow artists to develop new work.
Like all arts organizations, Jacob’s Pillow has been dealt a financial blow by the shutdown of live performances because of the coronavirus pandemic. Nearly half of the nonprofit’s annual revenue comes from ticket sales and other activities associated with the festival, which was scheduled to run from late June to late August of this year.
Because of the festival’s cancellation — the first in its 88-year history — the organization laid off 10 of its 45 full-time employees, canceled contracts for more than 40 seasonal staffers and enacted pay cuts for the remaining full-time employees.
There was an outpouring of sadness from the dance world as news of the fire spread. Some posted videos of dancers performing or rehearsing in Doris Duke, calling it the Barn because of its rustic wood paneling. The black-box theater could be configured in several different ways, with the audience opposite the stage, with seating in the round or as an immersive structure in which audience members see the movement happening all around them.
Sara Mearns, a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, wrote in an Instagram post that she could not imagine Jacob’s Pillow without Doris Duke Theater and that, for her, it represented her foray into a world of dance beyond ballet.
“This place gave me the permission to be whatever artist I wanted to be,” she wrote.
Siobhan Burke contributed reporting.