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Bates Festival Newsletters

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Newsletter Vol. 2 Spring 2004

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

2004 FESTIVAL HIGHLIGHTS

by Laura Faure, Festival Director

James P. "Cricket" Colter,
photo by Bob Emmott

We are bursting with so much information on so many upcoming projects that I will make my introduction especially brief. Festival 2004 promises to be an engaging and diverse cultural experience. We hope you will join us this July and August for performances, free Inside Dance discussions and simply to enjoy the ambience produced when dance artists from around the globe gather in our intimate environment to explore their creativity. We are excited about this season’s programming and the rich potential revealed as we work more closely with Bates College to jointly envision our future. We thank you for being part of the Festival’s circle of friends and supporters and hope that, like the Nightline staffer whose essay we are proud to feature this month, you will experience “the freedom of creativity, the productivity of collaboration, the open exchange of cultures” that make the Bates Dance Festival a truly remarkable arts destination. The coming year holds exciting things in store for the Festival. We hope you will mark your calendars now for the 2004 season.

 

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A NIGHTLINE STAFFER TAKES A VACATION AND FINDS HOPE IN THE ARTS

by Allan Shapiro

Like many of my Nightline colleagues, I tend to take my family vacation in the summer time. The kids are off from school, Washington is a hot and muggy place to be during the furnace-like months of July and August, and the Washington news cycle tends to slow down considerably especially in years when there are no national elections.

Working on a daily news broadcast like Nightline can be very exciting but it can also be quite depressing. On those nights when we are bringing the latest pictures of a bloody bombing or the victims of a natural disaster or the stories of individual suffering, it is often difficult to go home and sleep at night. There are times when the news that we cover portrays the world as hopeless. We desperately need a vacation to get away from the daily grind of these types of stories.

Many of my fellow Nightline staff friends elect to lie out on exotic beaches in the Caribbean or Hawaii. Some choose adventurous trips to the mountains or some to foreign lands. Some visit family members who live in different parts of the country or in other countries. Some even take advantage of those free passes that our parent company Disney issues every year to take our families to one of the theme parks.

On and off, for the better part of the past 12 years, I have brought my family to the Bates Dance Festival at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine during the last weeks of July and the beginning of August. Lewiston is not what I would describe as a tourist destination. It is an old mill town deserted by the shoe and textile industries many years ago. Within two hours, one could be lounging at a beautiful beach near Kennebunkport, eating lobster at the harbor in Camden or Rockland, or hiking the rugged and scenic White Mountains of New Hampshire.

We first came to the Bates Dance Festival in 1991 because my wife Meryl is an accomplished dancer, instructor and choreographer and it was an opportunity to advance her skills and exchange ideas with other artists. During those first years, our two children, Sabrina and Julian, were quite young (ages 1 and 4). In 1993, we added a third child, Lyla, but continued to return to Bates. Eventually, the festival added a youth festival and my children participated in the half-day program that included dance and music.

We live in the Bates College dormitories, eat in the college dining hall, attend dance and music performances and interact with artists and students from all parts of the country and many different parts of the world. Each year that we are here, I am amazed at the diversity of nationalities and languages spoken at this festival. Just this summer for instance there are representatives from Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan, Taiwan, Cuba, Mexico, Portugal, South Africa, England, Canada and Bermuda.

While my wife is off dancing from 9 in the morning until 6 in the evening, my children attend the Youth Festival and I have access to all of the facilities at the College. I use their extensive library including their computers. I work out in the gym or the swimming pool. I walk around the small pond at the center of campus. I observe classes and attend performances. Unlike my schedule at home, I go to bed early, awake early and have all my meals with my family.

I sat down with the Festival’s director Laura Faure to talk about the festival and to ask her how the mission of the program fits into the scheme of things: in the arts world as well as the world in general. Ms. Faure has been the director of the festival for 16 of the 21 years it has been in existence. She is an important presenter of dance performances both nationally and internationally. She believes that “artists interpret our experiences in a way that helps people understand what is going on in their lives.”

She sees the festival as a collaborative process and a free exchange of ideas. Dancers do not come here just to work on their technique, choreographers do not come here just to create new works, instructors do not come here just to teach and musicians do not come here just to accompany the classes and performances. As Ms. Faure puts it “the boundaries are blurring.” Dancers and choreographers create new works together in a collaborative effort. The musicians sometimes dance in the pieces and the dancers sometimes accompany the musicians in performance or in class.

Among the many and varied performances held during the festival, perhaps none demonstrates the blurring of those boundaries more than “Moving in the Moment.” This performance is co-produced by the dancers and the musicians under the direction of renown contact improvisation artist Nancy Stark Smith. The event is held in a gym with a dance floor surface. As the audience enters, the dancers are warming up and playing basketball. Eventually a chaotic game of basketball ensues with more than 10 players on each team. Two more basketballs are thrown into the mix. Musicians start playing and find a rhythm that suits the chaos. The rhythm of the music changes, the basketball rim is raised, the balls taken off the floor and the dancers begin to improvise in small groups. There are several of these improvised works, each with structure and yet each seemingly playful and structureless. At one point musician Michael Vargas announces “Switch” and the musicians begin to improvise movement and the dancers take over the instruments. After a while, one of the dancers announces “Replay” and the musicians return to their instruments. The dancers take the floor but this time improvising from some of the movement that the musicians created. It is an environment where anything can happen and the suspense for the audience is where will this go next.

I asked Ms. Faure what it is that she is seeking in bringing an artist to the festival. She says that she looks at the person first. The artist must have talent and do good work but must also be a good teacher, generous and want to be part of a community. She hopes that this collaborative process will serve as a model of how people can come together as a community. During the course of this collaborative effort, the artists are constantly solving problems. How does one start with nothing but an empty space, a group of motivated and creative people, moving bodies, and a few musical instruments and create a work of art. According to Ms. Faure, “artists know how to problem solve creatively and collaboratively in groups.” This is the type of modeling she is speaking about when these artists take their experience from the festival and return to their communities. The festival is a “laboratory and incubator for new works, a birthing center for creativity.”

When discussing the international aspect of the festival, Ms. Faure expresses concern. The cross-cultural exchange that she has fostered over the years is in jeopardy. Since 9/11, the Immigration and Naturalization Service has created restrictions that make it difficult for artists from other countries to enter the United States. It is difficult, sometimes impossible, for artists to obtain visas if they are from “suspect” countries. Ms. Faure claims that artists that are able to obtain visas are harassed and delayed by INS and Customs officials. She is worried that these problems inhibit cultural exchange and sees the current administration as creating a climate of fear. She thinks that the government can distinguish between artists and terrorists.

My attention turned to the problems of the world. How does problem solving within an artistic community relate to the scourges that we see each day in our national and local media? Perhaps this has been the main attraction of this festival for me. Working with the national media and covering Washington politics, we seem to see the same problems recurring. Poverty, homelessness, malnutrition, child abuse, lack of health care, unemployment are just some of the challenges that we as a nation seem to deal with continuously. These problems are even more profound on an international level. The policy makers, no matter which party is in power, cannot seem to come up with solutions. Perhaps the reason for our sense of powerlessness is that the process for solving these problems is too narrow. We need to think creatively, we need to work collaboratively, we need to work together as a team and still honor and respect our differences. Perhaps, our policy makers need to think more like artists.

As the Bates Dance Festival wraps up its final week of classes and performances, I came to a conclusion. I have always felt warmly welcomed and relaxed at this summer retreat but this summer I realized something more. This is the enriching and nurturing environment I want my children to experience even if for just a few weeks. I want them to experience the freedom of creativity, the productivity of collaboration, the open exchange of cultures. In some small way, the Bates Dance Festival is helping to heal the world and just being here makes me feel part of that process. It gives me a feeling of hope. That is a vacation worth experiencing and sharing.

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MARCY PLAVIN, BRINGING DANCE FORWARD FOR 39 YEARS<

by Dervilla McCann

Marcy Plavin, photo by Phyllis Graber Jensen

Given the international recognition of the Bates Summer Dance Festival, it is hard to believe that on the Bates campus of 1920, dancing was forbidden. Although allowing the students to have social interactions including dance was a concession the college soon made, the college had an on-again-off-again attitude towards dance as a legitimate field of study. Enter Marcia Plavin (known by her students ever since as Marcy) in 1965. Helping the college rethink its approach to modern dance has taken diplomacy, perseverance, and energy. Marcy has used these attributes along with her love of dance to drive a dramatic evolution in the relationship of the college to its student dancers, whether they visit the campus during the summer or enroll as undergraduates.

Forming a Bates Modern Dance Company in 1968 with some interested students (including one male student kicked off the track team because his hair was too long), the BCMDC is now in its thirty-fifth year with Marcy as its guiding force. She has enough choreographic accomplishments to keep a repertory company busy for weeks, having created everything from musicals for local theatres, to many full-length productions for the dance company at Bates.

Marcy was strongly influenced by Hanya Holm, in whose studio she studied while living as a young single in New York City before moving to Maine. Although she has danced in many venues including the University of Wisconsin, Adelphi College in NY, and Wesleyan University where she received a Masters degree, Marcy’s real love is choreography. Through the years, however, some students have coaxed her back on stage. She recalls dancing in the first dance thesis project at Bates, for Linda Erickson (Rawlings) in 1976.

A conversation between Marcy and Bates president T. Hedley Reynolds in the 1980’s about possible uses of a beautiful but largely empty summer campus led to the first summer dance festival in 1983. After the festival’s first five years the potential scope of the project and its rapid growth led to the search for a full time director. Laura Faure took on the formidable job of developing the festival to its current form. Marcy then focused on the Dance program during the academic year at Bates. Plavin, the eternal student, continues to take classes at the summer festival, exuding an enjoyment of the physicality of the process.

Now a festival advisor and board Member, as well as a Bates College faculty member, Marcy continues to influence, advise and instruct young dancers. Her hospitality and the personal support she offers her students are legendary. Creating an atmosphere where experimentation is allowed and creative risk-taking is expected has resulted in an extraordinary legacy of success in her students, both in and out of the traditional world of dance.

Over the years, Dance has moved out of the division of Physical Education into the Department of Theatre and Rhetoric, and now students may study dance as a secondary concentration. Although there is at this time still no dance major at Bates, the college’s reputation in dance is well established. Dance critic and Bates graduate Suzanne Carbonneau (‘76) as well as John Carrafa (’76) and Michael Foley (’89) have had successful professional dance careers, and all have gone on record to credit their success, in no small part, to the role Marcy has played in their lives (Bates Magazine, Winter 1999, Marcy Plavin a dance sensation, by Doug Hubley). Recognition of her contributions to the art reached a new level with a generous tribute recently from internationally renowned dancer/choreographer Mark Morris. Recognizing her pivotal contribution to the development of dance, Morris gave Marcy one of his pieces to perform at the upcoming 35th anniversary Celebration of the BCMDC at Bates College. Canonic 3 / 4 Studies will be performed on May 1st at Schaeffer Theatre by the current student dancers at Bates. Additional work by returning alumni should make it an evening of memorable reconnections.

Marcy’s current focus is the formidable job of cataloging and archiving the history of the company she began 35 years ago. Sifting through hundreds of photographs taken over the years by Leonard Plavin, her husband, she has created a book of photographs and text recalling the unique energy and astonishing variety of pieces performed by the college dance company as they changed through the years. Although this is the last year she will be teaching students directly, when asked about retirement, Plavin prefers to say ‘I’m just moving on”. As always, the emphasis is on moving!

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FESTIVAL AND COLLEGE: DUET IN-PROGRESS

The Festival welcomes international choreographer, performer, and teacher Carol Dilley to Maine and to Bates. Ms. Dilley joined the Bates College faculty in Fall 2003 first as a Visiting and now as a Tenure-track Assistant Professor and Director of Dance. During a nearly 20-year performing career she has worked with many dance companies and independent choreographers as well as her own companies, Radio Suec and Carol Dilley & Co., and has performed her work in Australia, Europe and the U.S. As a supporter of independent dance, she co-founded a performance series in Barcelona called La Porta, and later founded Dance Briefs, a similar event in Sydney, Australia. Her MFA comes from the University of Washington, with a Graduate Certificate in Arts Management from the University of Technology in Sydney.
Carol Dilley

According to Ms. Dilley, one of the things that attracted her most to Bates College was the international reputation of the Bates Dance Festival. Since her earliest involvement in the search process, she was intrigued by the groundwork being laid for more meaningful bonds between the summer and year-round dance activities at the College. “There is a great deal of positive energy around dance at Bates and that is very exciting. I’m considering this project to build more connection and coherence between the two programs as one of my highest priorities.”

Meanwhile, thanks to the efforts of long time Director of Dance Marcy Plavin, the Dean of the Faculty and others, this year the College is establishing its first-ever dedicated space for dance, a portion of the Merrill Gymnasium complex. As Ms. Dilley puts it, “there is no dance without space. This is absolutely fundamental to the [academic] program, its sense of itself.” Next year, plans call for additional areas of Merrill formerly used for athletics to be reserved for dance, creating an entire dance corner or community space complete with a dressing room, bathroom, and second studio.

In exploring the potential for mutual advancement, Ms. Dilley and Festival Director Laura Faure have discussed raising the profile of the Bates College Dance Program among Festival artists and visitors, building bridges for Bates College students and faculty to attend the Bates Dance Festival, and creating opportunities for extended artist residencies that would provide cross-fertilization and creative nourishment for both programs.

All told, the relationship between the summer dance festival and the year-round college dance program appears to be poised on the brink of a major shift. Administration is supportive, and, states Ms. Dilley, “We’re in a good position. It’s about finding the right size and shape of all of the pieces so that it all fits together.”

"The Bates Dance Festival exemplifies the vibrancy and accomplishment of this academic community and helps us to extend our reach and visibility. I am proud and privileged to count this program among our most distinguished cultural offerings to the world."
          -- Elaine Tuttle Hansen, President, Bates College

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HIP-HOP PHENOMENON RETURNS TO BDF

Rennie Harris Puremovement, photo by Bob Emmot

Rennie Harris, one of hip-hop’s leading ambassadors worldwide and a long-time participant in BDF’s Commissioning, Residency and Performance program, brings his company Puremovement back to BDF this summer for the Maine premiere of Facing Mekka, a work co-commissioned by the Festival and originally conceived here in 1998. Facing Mekka explores the global face of Islam through a collage of movement, rhythm, sound and image that offers dance as a vehicle for uniting people and cultures. The work had its premiere at New York’s Joyce Theatre in May 2003 and continues to grow in importance and relevance as it tours to various communities nationwide.

Raised in North Philadelphia, Mr. Harris is a pioneer in performing, choreographing and teaching hip-hop. He has traveled the country and abroad with the first organized hip-hop tour in America, the “Fresh Festival” starring Run DMC, Fatboys, Curtis Blow, and Whodini. He has also worked with Kool Moe Dee, West Street Mob, Salt 'n' Pepa and other noted hip hop stars, and taught workshops and classes at many schools and universities in the U.S. and internationally. He has won numerous awards, including a Pew Fellowship, and was voted one of the most influential people in the last one hundred years of Philadelphia history.

Since 1995, BDF has donated space and creative time for Rennie Harris and his company to develop and perform new repertory as they have brought hip-hop culture to greater visibility on the concert stage. The Festival provided the first intensive residency (five weeks) for the creation of Rome & Jewels, a retelling of the classic, romantic tragedies of Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story through the cultural lens of contemporary urban youth. BDF was also a primary commissioner of that work, which received three BESSIE Awards.

Over the years, our audiences have developed a strong connection to Mr. Harris and his extraordinary dancers. To help accommodate the high level of public interest, this summer’s performance series features a four-night engagement for Puremovement, a first in BDF history. Dr. Suzanne Carbonneau, our scholar-in-residence, will write notes for the program and moderate free Inside Dance discussions. Company member James P. “Cricket” Colter will teach classes in hip-hop and repertory during the three-week professional training program and offer a master class for our Youth Arts Program. Public performances will take place July 22-25. This BDF residency is funded in part by the Ford Foundation, Surdna Foundation, the LEF Foundation, and Altria Group, Inc.

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COMMUNITY DANCE PROJECT UPDATE

Everett Dance Theatre, photo by David O'Connor

Providence, RI-based Everett Dance Theatre is known for its focus on building community through the arts and for its adept handling of sensitive subjects across a range of human experience. This year we have selected Everett company members Rachel Jungels and Bravell Garcia Smith to work with a group of approximately 10 local teens and 10 adult dancers from around the country as co-leaders of BDF’s 2004 Community Dance Project.

Local Maine teens who are experienced in the arts and hungry for more in-depth interaction with professional artists will be eligible to participate. They will be selected from our summer Youth Arts Program and from the Portland-based youth theater program A Company of Girls, with whom we are collaborating.

Teens will spend mornings in Youth Arts dance and music classes at the United Baptist Church in Lewiston, then come to the Festival each afternoon. A three-week course will delve into the developmental process for Everett’s latest work Home Movies, which uses dance, theater and video to explore the many ways families provide a sense of belonging and safety, how we identify our families, and where we find home.

Project leaders will work with the young people and adults to uncover personal stories related to these themes and document them on video. The narratives will serve as touchstones for developing new movement material, to be performed at our Festival Finale on August 14. The full company of Everett Dance Theatre will premiere Home Movies on our mainstage August 6 and 7 (see inset for complete 2004 performance schedule). Youth Arts students and their families will receive complimentary tickets to attend these performances.

For over ten years, BDF’s annual Community Dance Project has enabled the local public and special populations to work alongside outstanding artists to create and perform new dance works. Past projects have featured choreographers Martha Renzi, David Dorfman, Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, Sara Pearson/Patrik Widrig, and Judith Smith of AXIS, a company at the forefront of integrated dance.

Bravell Smith has played a key role in Everett Dance Theatre presenting educational pieces such as Written in the Air, which focuses on conflict resolution for young people and Fighting to Be American: A Civil War, a piece that addresses equality and social concerns during the 1800s. Rachel Jungels is a Julliard-graduate and co-founder of Everett Dance Theatre who has taught extensively in both academic and residency settings. Both are alumni of Hope High School’s Arts Magnet program in inner-city Providence. This BDF residency is funded in part by the Ford Foundation, Surdna Foundation, the LEF Foundation, Altria Group, Inc., Shapiro Family Foundation and the Maine Community Foundation.

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NATIONAL ARTS RESEARCH BRIEF

“Investing in Creativity: A Study of the Support Structures for U.S. Artists,” released last fall by the Urban Institute in concert with the New York Foundation for the Arts, sheds light on BDF’s role in the national arts infrastructure. The report confirms the critical yet fragile status of festivals and artist-focused organizations around the country as suppliers of discipline-specific and career stage-specific training and professional development not often available through traditional academic channels; space providers for the creation of new work; and sources of external validation essential to an artist’s creative life, including access to peer networks, meaningful criticism, and direct engagement with the public. More information may be found at www.usartistsreport.org.

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MEMBERSHIP

BDF relies on contributions from foundations, corporations, and individuals to supply a critical portion of our operating budget each year. Please consider becoming a Member – call 207-786-6381 today or send an email to dancefest@bates.edu for more info.

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Newsletter Writer & Editor: Elinor Buxton
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