Bates provides a platform for some of the most innovative movement artists in the world and a training ground for tomorrow’s professionals.
It would be difficult to overstate the relevance of the Bates Dance Festival to global artistic creativity. Along with just a few other dance centers, including the legendary Jacob’s Pillow in western Massachusetts, Bates provides a platform for some of the most innovative movement artists in the world and a training ground for tomorrow’s professionals.
Each summer, director Laura Faure coordinates an intense schedule of dance training, educational community programs and professional performances in Schaeffer Theatre on the idyllic Bates College campus in Lewiston.
Adult and teenage pre-professional and professional dancers study for several weeks with teachers who include the renowned artists in residence. The students’ enthusiastic response is evident at the public performances; they fill several rows with a throb of delight and evident intricate involvement with both the choreography and the artists on stage.
Since 1988, the festival has also provided space for creating new works. This summer, Bates will host David Dorfman as he collaborates with artists from Turkey, in a cultural exchange sponsored by the prestigious DanceMotion USA, a program of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State.
“It will be amazing,” says Faure. “I think it’s fantastic that we’re getting to be the site where it happens, and helping to introduce these artists to America.”
Dorfman has a deep connection to Bates. All the members of his company, David Dorfman Dance, have attended the festival and Dorfman discovered some of them here, Faure explains. While the new piece won’t be ready for a public premiere at Bates, on July 25 and 26 the company will perform “Come, and Back Again,” an evening-length piece with a distinctly urban and emotional quality.
“He’s wild and wooly, but very personal,” says Faure of Dorfman. “The piece deals with aging and mortality, through the lens of punk and Patti Smith.”
Faure, who has directed the festival for 26 years (most of its history) is excited about every one of the performers on the schedule; this is hardly surprising considering her active role in selecting them.
“As often as possible I like to see them live,” she says. She has long acquaintances with many of the artists, while she is inspired by others after seeing them in performance. In addition to choosing dancers and choreographers of outstanding quality, “I try to put together a season with artistic diversity, because different things appeal to different people,” she explains.
While visiting South Africa last summer, she saw the solo piece to be performed on Aug. 1 and 2 by dancer and choreographer Vincent Sekwati Mantsoe.
“He’s an artist I’ve loved for many years,” she says. “He was the first South African choreographer to really make his name, and he performed at Nelson Mandela’s inauguration. He truly is a force of nature.”
His piece, “Skwatta,” was inspired by the growing number of squatter camps around South Africa’s cities, and it reflects his heartfelt fusion of aboriginal and contemporary dance language.
Faure has paired Mantsoe with Chinese choreographer Yin Mei, whom she saw in New York two years ago. Yin Mei will perform “DIS/oriented: Antonioni in China,” inspired by her memories of growing up during China’s Cultural Revolution, and by Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1972 daily-life documentary “Chung Kuo, Cina,” originally sanctioned and then banned for three decades by the Chinese government.
Much of contemporary dance explores social themes like these, as well as developing new forms in pure movement and extending the potential of the human body. A prime example is Camille A. Brown & Dancers, a Bates favorite who will return this year on July 17 and 19 with “Mr. TOL E. RAncE,” a theatrical examination of race in entertainment, from blackface minstrels to rappers.
“Camille hopes the piece will spark conversation,” says Faure, who notes that Brown will engage in a post-performance talk with the audience with the intention of real give-and-take dialogue. The piece’s piano score will be performed live by composer Scott Patterson.
On July 11 and 12, Boston-based Prometheus Dance will open the festival’s performance season with its “Heart of the Matter.” Familiar with Prometheus for many years, Faure chose this piece because “my colleagues at World Music/CRASHarts raved about it,” she says. The “viscerally charged and dramatic” evening-length piece is about “the trials and tribulations of relationships,” says Faure.
Each artist in residence will also offer a “Show & Tell” evening; these are free educational events held in the theater a couple of days before the associated performances.
The festival’s performance schedule also includes a musician’s concert on July 30; the improvisational “Moving in the Moment” on Aug. 5; “Different Voices” on Aug. 7 and 8, showcasing diverse emerging and established choreographers; and “Young Choreographers/New Works Showcase” on Aug. 9.
Much of what you’ll see at the Bates Dance Festival is, although polished, essentially explorative, and it’s important to remember that exploration involves risk-taking and new vocabulary. As with any cutting-edge art, these elements are part of the excitement. This creativity cuts the edge fine, and the companies performing at Bates are the very artists pushing the art of dance forward into the unknown, and into the future.