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Bob Keyes

Bob Keyes has written about the arts in Maine since 2002. He’s never been much an artist himself, other than singing in junior high school chorus and acting in a few musicals. But he’s attended museums, theaters, clubs and concert halls all his life, and cites Bob Dylan as most influential artist of any kind since Picasso. He lives in Berwick.

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Posted: July 31, 2017

‘Mill Town’ is a ‘love letter to Lewiston,’ in dance form

Written by: Bob Keyes
Kelsey Gagnon rehearses the finale of the multi-media production "Mill Town" for the Bates Dance Festival at the Bates Mill Complex. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

Kelsey Gagnon rehearses the finale of the multi-media production “Mill Town” for the Bates Dance Festival at the Bates Mill Complex.
Staff photos by Brianna Soukup

The mills that gave the community its backbone and character have a starring role in a new piece of movement-theater that begins the final weekend of the Bates Dance Festival.

“Mill Town,” with dance, music and video and a cast of 50, will take place Thursday and Friday evenings around and within the Bates Mill Complex in downtown Lewiston. The audience will follow the dancers in a promenade throughout the mill, beginning in an outdoor courtyard and ending on the mill’s fourth floor. “Mill Town” is told in six parts, each in a different section of the complex with scenic and media installations, video footage from the city and artifacts from Museum L-A.

“I think of this as an immersive event, where the mill itself is the primary subject matter,” said choreographer Stephan Koplowitz, a past Guggenheim Fellow who specializes in site-specific work. “Mill Town” caps a long professional association between Koplowitz and Bates festival director Laura Faure, who has brought the choreographer to campus many times to teach.

In her final year as festival director, Faure wanted to create a piece that focused attention on downtown Lewiston. During a previous summer teaching at Bates, Koplowitz researched the geography, industry and culture of Lewiston-Auburn and became interested in the region’s century-long status as a center for textile and shoes. Impressed how the mills are being used today and the city’s vision for their future, he created an abstract performance piece that tells a loose historical narrative and imagines the pathway forward.

The project began three years ago, when Koplowitz came to Bates to teach. Faure asked him to scout downtown Lewiston and Auburn for sites to stage a big, dramatic work that would respond to the environment and involve the community.

MacKenzie Schuller rehearses the finale of the multi-media production "Mill Town" along with other dancers for the Bates Dance Festival at the Bates Mill Complex.

MacKenzie Schuller rehearses the finale of the multi-media production “Mill Town” along with other dancers for the Bates Dance Festival at the Bates Mill Complex.

After considering several sites and ideas, Koplowitz settled on the mills, because of their size and architectural wonder, and also because of their historical and cultural significance. He engaged in conversations with the curatorial team at Museum L-A., which interprets the history of the area, and researched the ecology of the region, considering its demographic, economic and cultural shifts over time.

The next summer, he returned with a team of dancers and a videographer to capture images of the city. They filmed on Lisbon Street, by the railroad tracks, in the parks.

“I’ve been doing work in multimedia for several years, short films and digital material for my site work,” Koplowitz said. “They’re films, but not really films – they’re visual and impressionist, and much more about imagery than telling any kind of story. I see it as a way to allow people to look at the environment with a different set of eyes and to re-contextualize it in a certain way. This is a work that is really touching on many aspects of the area, the history and the architecture, but is very abstract in many ways. It’s like a collage of images put together, allowing the audience to create their own impressions and create their own narratives.”

The piece also includes music by composer Todd Reynolds, scenic and media design by Shawn Hove and video by Ellen Maynard. Melody Eggen designed the costumes. Koplowitz is working with 47 dancers.

While the mills may seem an obvious choice for this work, Koplowitz said he considered many options.

“When Laura invited me to come to Lewiston, I didn’t immediately go, ‘Oh, I want to do it in the mill.’ We really spent time thinking about what this community has, and I quickly realized the community was beginning to revalue these mills and repurposing them in a way so they could live on into the 21st century. That impressed me,” he said.

He designed “Mill Town” as a story about the past, present the future. It begins in an open-air courtyard, surrounded by bricks, and ends in the vast space of an open mill floor and a horizon of possibility. “Abstractly, I am beginning the work by leveraging the history in a more direct manner, and as we literally go higher into the mill, it becomes less connected to the past and more connected to the present and future in its own way,” he said.

Faure calls “Mill Town” a “love letter to Lewiston.” She’s directed the festival for 30 years and wanted the final big piece of her tenure to celebrate the city.

‘MILL TOWN’

WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday
WHERE: Bates Mill Complex, 130 Mill St., Lewiston; park in the Lincoln Street garage, ushers will direct people to the box office and starting point.
TICKETS & INFO: $20, $15 seniors, $12 students; batesdancefestival.org/performances/order-tickets
OTHER: Rain or shine; most of the performance is indoors.

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