Laura Faure thought long and hard about the best way to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Bates Dance Festival.
We sometimes overlook the festival. Dance is a thin slice of the performing arts, and summer in Maine tends to lead one to the summer theaters and classical music festivals on the coast.
It’s easy to understand why. Theater and music are fairly mainstream — at least compared to modern dance, which tends to attract a specialized audience.
But if we overlook Bates Dance, we miss an opportunity for enlightenment.
Bates has a major presence in the larger world of modern dance, and the performers that Faure brings to Lewiston each summer are among the best in the nation, if not the world.
What we see at Bates is unlike anything we see in Maine, although Portland Ovations’ aggressive embrace of dance under Aimee Petrin’s leadership is beginning to change that somewhat.
Nonetheless, Bates stands alone at the top.
About 4,500 people attend the festival, generating about $300,000 in direct spending over a month or so, said Darrell Bulmer, director of the Maine Arts Commission.
This year, to mark an important moment in the festival’s history, Faure has built a performance program around artists with whom the festival has charted career-building relationships. Especially during the 25 years that Faure has been involved at Bates, the festival has dedicated itself to the creative process by taking an active role as commissioners and producers of new work.
“I care about supporting artists who are making work,” said Faure. “I tried to frame this year around the relationships we have with the artists. That is central to what we do, and always has been.”
The public performances that are part of the festival begin Thursday and run through Aug. 11, mostly at the air-conditioned Schaeffer Theatre on the Bates campus.
The thrust of the lineup includes a pair of veteran dancers, Rennie Harris and Larry Keigwin, and two relatives newcomers, Kyle Abraham and Kate Weare.
The festival has played key roles in the development of each artist. By bringing them back in this anniversary season, Faure hopes to accent that aspect of the festival’s mission.
Harris has been associated with Bates since 1996 — which seems like just yesterday. He was a young guy at the time, an aspiring choreographer with a hopeful future. He has since become a major figure in dance.
Faure remembers sitting with Harris at his hotel room in Lewiston, and he was clicking away at his computer.
“What are you doing?” she asked him.
He told her that he was working on what would become his signature early-career piece, “Rome and Jewels,” a hip-hop opera inspired by “West Side Story.”
“A huge light went off in my head,” Faure said.
She dedicated herself to the work, helping Harris secure a grant and giving him the support necessary to create and finish the work in an incubator environment.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of his company, Rennie Harris Puremovement. With his 20th, Faure’s 25th and Bates’ 30th occurring in the same year, it seemed appropriate to invite him back, Faure said.
“I called him and I said, ‘Let’s celebrate together.’ “
Harris brings his company to Bates to kick off the series beginning Friday with a greatest-hits showcase. Harris also will deliver a free lecture-demonstration at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Schaeffer.
Larry Keigwin has a 20-plus year history with Bates. He first arrived as a student and returned as a performer with another company as a choreographer, as a teacher and as the leader of his own troupe, Keigwin + Company, which performs Aug. 2-4.
Abraham came to Bates in 2009 as an emerging choreographer, and Weare made her mark there in 2009. Both bring their companies back to Lewiston with new work.
Abraham’s company, Abraham.in.Motion, performs his latest work, “Live! The Realest MC” July 19 and July 21. Weare’s company will present a piece she calls “Garden,” which deals with intimacy and the storm of relationships in a two-women, two-man piece on July 27-28.
In an e-mail, Weare said that Bates, and Faure in particular, have been critical in her development as an artist.
“She’s buoyed my spirits up through difficult challenges, encouraged and championed me throughout my development as a choreographer and artistic director,” she wrote, adding, “I think she has a very discerning, keen eye for high-quality choreography across a wide aesthetic and cultural range. I think she brings extraordinarily high-quality dance to a small town in Maine, and works tirelessly to promote high standards in the field by expecting excellence in the work she extends to her audience base.”
Those are ideals worth celebrating.
Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or: